Shaindel Beers’ The Children’s War and Other Poems

© Image by Catching Violet Photography

© Image by Catching Violet Photography

 
 
 
Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in the Eastern Oregon high desert town of Pendleton, and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary. The Children’s War and Other Poems is her second collection with Salt Publishing.
 
 
 
 
Shaindel Beers2 
 
 
 
“In the first half of The Children’s War and Other Poems, Shaindel Beers looks at artwork done by and about child survivors of war, embodying the voices of the children, their families, and the humanitarian aid workers sent to help them. From there, the book opens out into an exploration of the war at home and the war within ourselves, exploring violence in mythology, domestic violence, and the wars that occur, sometimes, within our own bodies.
 
 
These poems act as a survival guide, showing that hope exists even in the darkest of places and that perhaps poetry is the key to our healing.”
 
 
 
 
The Children's War 
 
 
 
“Shaindel Beers’ The Children’s War and Other Poems is a poetry survival kit. It offers beauty and balance, provides necessary news of how to survive the war against innocence, how to start over — from a child’s point of view, and from a woman’s. The poems lend perspective that is both global and intimate.”
 
– Marilyn Kallet
 
 
 
“What Shaindel Beers offers us in this fine collection is a poetic humanizing and individualizing of the impersonal and ubiquitous violence that saturates the contemporary world. From a young Chechen girl who takes joy in the happiness she causes other passengers on the bus to a child drawing the cat she could not protect in the attack that killed her entire family, these poems show us unexpected reprieves from suffering alongside unfathomable new depths of horror. Given the ekphrastic nature of Beers’ project, we also feel something of the war journalist’s documentation in addition to the poetic humanizing effect. The combination is emotional and heady stuff. These poems are rare in that they have an aesthetic, emotional, and political impact in equal measure. You would do well to read them many times.”
 
– Okla Elliott
 
 
 
“In the title sequence of The Children’s War and Other Poems, an atelier of ekphrastic lyrics based on artworks by children from Chechnya, Darfur, and other recent war zones, Shaindel Beers tells us “There are things that can happen that you can’t draw”. Yet with gem-hard language and heartrending imagery, she confronts us with the unspeakable reality of “children being scattered/ like a broken strand of brightly colored beads”. Beers joins the ranks of Edgar Lee Masters and Ted Kooser with her portraits of ordinary Americans, many of them women, devastated by physical and emotional hardship, but she enters risky and breathtaking territory all her own with her intimate portraits of domestic abuse and of her fears, as a new mother, that “violence is the one tool/ I have been given”. Yet for all their darkness, the poems find hope: in memory, in everyday beauty, in the bonds of love. “This isn’t much, but it’s the gift”, Beers assures students at a reservation, “the one gift, these stories, that can’t be taken away”. Shaindel Beers’ poems place a moral burden upon us, one that can’t be taken away, but they offer the strength to bear it up.”
 
– Temple Cone
 
 
 
*
  
 
 
Shaindel writes: 
 
 
“This book wouldn’t have been written if it were not for the Slate.com article ‘The Art of War’ by Dr. Annie Sparrow and Olivier Bercault, which first inspired me to pursue this project, as well as the countless humanitarians who catalogue and publish artwork done by and about children during war-time. Thank you so much for giving voices to the voiceless. Sources of artwork in book form include They Still Draw Pictures by Anthony L. Geist and Peter N. Carroll and Sunflowers in the Sand: Stories from Children of War by Lisa Curtin.
 
 
Corium Magazine has featured some of the artwork alongside the poems here and here.”
 

 

  
 
 
After a drawing by Mercedes Comellas
Ricart, 13, during the Spanish Civil War
 
 
The plane drops a single black tear of a bomb
that tears a hole in the mountains. The station
bell is mute next to the air raid sirens, and we run,
leaving our bags at the station. Papá reaches for me;
Mamá reaches for Pilar, and we run, never quite grasping
hands, never quite touching. It is a ghost train, light grey
and see-through because we never got on. I didn’t finish
the tracks because I never learned where they would go.
 
 
 
Artwork:
 
After a drawing by Mercedes Comellas Ricart, 13,
during the Spanish Civil War

 
 
 
*
 
 
 
After Martija’s Watercolor, Croatia
 
 
There are things that can happen that you can’t draw.
A soldier ripping off the baby’s diaper and slamming him
into the wall because it will be easier if the baby
cannot cry. Your mother without a head. You paint splotches.
Green and blue are peaceful. That was before.
Now, everything is red. The red mixed with the green
becomes a sickening brown. The brown that covered
your thighs when the soldier was done with you.
 
 
 
Artwork:
 
After Martija’s Watercolor, Croatia
From Sunflowers in the Sand: Stories from Children of War
by Leah Curtin
 

 
*
 
 
Little Amira Honors Her Cat, Pepa
 
 
Fourteen in hiding in a basement
and we all need something to protect.
The men guard the door, the women guard
the children. Grandma holds me, and I hold
Pepa. Pepa himself was love. So when I draw
him, his face is an orange heart. He is smiling
with his mouth and his eyes and his whiskers.
He wears a blue flower as a collar. When
the grenade blew open the shelter, the world
became only Lejla and me. No Mama, no
Grandma, no Jusuf, no Pepa. No Pepa.
I draw Pepa over and over. No one else
because he was mine to take care of.
When I grow up, I will own a pet store.
I will have ten cats named Pepa.
I will do a better job because
I will be bigger.
 
 
 
Artwork:
 
Little Amira Honors Her Cat, Pepa
From Sunflowers in the Sand: Stories from Children of War
by Leah Curtin 

 
 
 
*
 
 

Painting by Azerbaijan War Survivor
Nighar Aliyeva, age 9
 
 
The woman could be any mother out walking
a baby in the cool, night air, hoping the twelve
stars, the moon, will lull him to sleep.
In her blue caftan, her black hijab, she could be
Mary, the mother of Jesus, Fatimah, daughter
of Muhammad. The three bloody men
in the background believe she is one;
the men who shot them believe she’s the other.
 
 
 
Artwork:
 
Painting by Azerbaijan War Survivor Nighar Aliyeva, age 9
 

 
*
 
 
 
Pain: A Tutorial
 
 
First, a memory. One painful enough to scar.
To bruise. Your father leaving. Your brother’s
death you’ve blamed yourself for since childhood.
If only you hadn’t said, Fine, then! Leave! If you
hadn’t played with matches. Had watched him
closer down by the river. Now, press slowly
with scalpel or finger the outline of the wound.
Remind yourself daily. A song you used to sing
when you were little. How you would lie
on your backs and make up stories about cloud animals.
The smell of the flowers in Grandma’s window boxes
just before—
 
Find someone who feels designed to fill this void.
You’ll know by matching scars. Let him press them,
too. He’ll say, No wonder your father left.
I wonder how your brother would feel if he were
here. He knows all the tricks. The little places inside you
no one else has ever gone. Pretend this is the pain
you deserve. That this is the closest love there is.
Let him press. Sometimes hold the scalpel yourself.
Let him guide your hand along the contours. He
cuts so beautifully. He’s shaping you. You’re his
lovely. His beloved. He’ll be so lost without you.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
There Are Men …
 
 
Who are at once scalpel and salve.
They have only one spigot for honey or gasoline,
and you don’t know which you will get until it hits
your tongue. Sip slowly. Protect the soft palate.
They will whittle you until you become
the loneliest statue on the planet. Some days
this will make you feel special and singular.
Your pedestal will be dizzying. When you
and the other muses lean toward one another,
some of you will shatter. This is to be expected;
this was always the plan. There will be more of you;
there always are, always have been.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Origins
 
 
My parents were lonely geniuses.
I found their letters to each other in a plastic bag,
my twentieth year, when my mom was in jail,
and I was trying to sort out the life they’d given
my siblings and me. You were the smartest person
I’d ever met they’d each written to the other.
But they couldn’t function like other parents.
It was all yelling and name-calling
and eventually knives and guns. And I grew up,
wondering where smart would get you.
But it always seemed better than the alternative—
my friends, whose parents had plenty of love
but no books, no imagination, a limited vocabulary
with which to rip out the heart of the beloved.
 
 
 
 
from The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt Publishing, 2013).
 
Order your personalised, signed copy directly from Shaindel here.
 
Order The Children’s War and Other Poems from the Salt Shop.
 
Visit Shaindel’s website.
 
 
 
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