The world is upside down.
There are two people in grey tones on the postcard a soldier sent home.
As I turn them, they stand and fall. To the ground and to the sky. Leaves fall. Her hair falls.
They fall and rise together.
In the wind, they are propelled.
The world is upside down.
His face is missing. Hers is exposed. They are stable. Not in danger of falling.
As he holds her, her eyes are closed.
The world is not upside down. It is sideways.
Two weeks into their relationship, he pulls one of his medals off of the shelf and places it
into her palm. Closes her fingers around it with his hand.
He shows her photographs of his father and his grandfather.
In the beginning, they all stood in front of signs, posed, smiled, snapped pictures.
Their wars were about pride and power, but in the end, they all went home and couldn’t
speak of what they’d seen.
He thinks: one day I might tell her my stories.
Pours her a glass of wine as they sit on the couch. She drinks with one hand, but never lets
go of the medal.
For the rest of the night, her fingers rest in the ridges.
He tosses and turns next to her at night.
Dreams about the others.
Men stand with their fingers pressed into their ears. Some crouch. One points at the sky.
One yells, “Welcome to Fallujah, motherfucker.”
A helicopter cuts the sky in half and sand storms blanket the air.
Everywhere, there is sand.
A bridge covers a small patch of water where children wade when their parents aren’t
looking. Poles lean in toward one another, arching, bowing wires across the street. The street, the
guardrail, the river, the grass: everything is grey.
Rust and oil coat the water with sheen. The makeshift bridge lies across the shallow end and
the wood rots. Children play in the rust, the oil and the wood.
Their parents don’t even know they are missing.
There are tanks and planes buried like fossils.
An abandoned plane protrudes from the water.
Debris from a recent battle floats in and out.
Algae grows around the headrests where faces are supposed to be.
Where faces once were.
Out the window, he stares at the sign. “Welcome to Camp Fallujah, Iraq.” The letters are the
color of his brother’s Iron-Man costume that he wore for Halloween. He watches other young men
stand in front of the sign and snap pictures to send home.
At night, in the barracks, he researches the word Fallujah. Comes from the Syriac language.
Means division, to be divided, to be separated. Means not in one place, not in the other. Means in
the middle somewhere. To be the divider of places.
See also, Pujah. Comes from Hinduism. Means a ritual in honor of the Gods. Can be
performed at home. He thinks: division of home. He thinks: this will never be home. Even when he
returns home, it won’t be home. Thinks, after the divorce, I’ll have two homes. Two gods to honor.
See also, Maharajah. Sanskrit for “great king.” He thinks God. He thinks father. Thinks of the
last name tattooed across his shoulders.
See also, Maharanee. Sanskrit for “wife of great king.” He thinks mother. Thinks, she is the reason
for the divorce.
In the beginning, each man dug a hole for the sign and pushed the posts in.
The beginning of the war was mostly exploration.
By the New Year, each Marine had seen the caskets they bury soldiers in.
That beginning was especially long winters that froze everything and pulled all of the
moisture from the plants and their bones.
Then his beginning was seeing what his father saw.
He dreams about man-made hills that turn into mountains, turn into broken bones that
pierce the horizon.
Trajectories are shot into the air and smoke runs like a river through the dirt.
They all press their fingers into their ears.
They all yell, “Welcome to Fallujah.”
In the moments where the explosions stop, a group of men holding assault rifles smile in
front of the sign. Crouch down. Wait for the sand storms to die just enough to see their teeth
glinting from sweat covered faces.
One flexes for a picture he sends to his wife.
One pretends he isn’t afraid.
The day they hoisted that sign into the sand, they declared ownership.
The letters were bright yellow and bright red, the colors of the marines.
In the beginning, they didn’t expect young marines to nickname it Dreamland. See also,
Baharia. See also, Camp Fallujah.
One Marine tells him that sand is made of bone.
Tells him that there are some parts of the body that do not contain water.
That that is where the saying, “bone dry” comes from.
When the sand blows in his face, he tastes the bones.
Stands in the trenches during summer. Dreams about the need for water.
He writes home to his mother about the sand and the bones.
Writes about a sticker he saw on one man’s helmet that says, “Live free or die.”
He reads about a soldier in Vietnam that only wanted to be dry.
The soldier wrote that the best feeling in the world was taking off his wet socks. Didn’t care
if his feet were prone to spiders or snakes. Or if giant rats crawled all over his toes.
All he wanted was to be dry. To hold his toes in the air and let the wetness evaporate.
All that soldier wanted was to be dry and all he wants is to find moisture in the air.
He thinks, it is the same war.
Eight years after Fallujah, he writes his thoughts on the stationery his mother gave him,
leaves it lying around the bedroom he shares with his girlfriend.
He wants to apologize to her and to his mother, but instead he writes his thoughts down,
tears them up, throws them on the ground.
Writes, “I’ve been having these dreams…”
Thinks, I will never be home.
He writes to his mother that he used to blame her for his parent’s divorce, but knows now
that the world wasn’t always upside down.
It was sideways.
He sends her a folded piece of paper with a hand-written serenity prayer on it.
Underneath it, he writes: “In the quiet moments, I feel like I’ll never be home. Always there
Thinks, I’m sorry.
Each night, he tells me his dreams.
Says he remembers Enya playing as the sky was lit with explosions.
Then remembers “Mama I’m Coming Home” as the turret on the tank turned.
I remember the first time he sang “Hallelujah.”
His voice loud over Leonard Cohen’s.
The way he gripped my fingers as we half-slept.
I remember being so tired but not wanting to sleep.
The American flag on the wall looked like it was waving.
Remember being drunk, him turning the radio up too high, practically yelling to sing over it.
“Baby, I’ve been here before. I used to be alone before I knew you.”
In my dreams, we are the people on the postcard. Propelled into the air. He presses into me.
I lean into him. White knuckles wrapped around anything I can find.
We are the two falling.
Sometimes, he sits alone on the balcony.
The radio sings “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”
He hears the Iraqi children sing “Fallujah.”
At night, we swing back and forth between fear and euphoria.
Between happiness and falling.
In my dreams, I am secured, but he is standing. Always pushing to see how I will react.
Always trying to see how wild he can be before I flinch.
Before I leave.
The sky will drop us if we stay suspended.
Eyes closed. White space. White air. White knuckles.
The world is upside down.
And the sign reads “Welcome to Camp Fallujah.”
Savannah Kater is a New England native who currently resides in Port Orange, Florida. She received her Masters in English at Stetson University and is an MFA candidate in Poetry and Creative Writing in Stetson's new MFA of the Americas program with a specialization in war poetry. She has been working on a project that repurposes her father's Vietnam War journals into erasure poems, Instagram posts, multi-media art, chapbooks and even rotating interactive word walls. Recently, she has accepted a position as poetry reader and social media manager of Stetson's online literary magazine, Obra Artifact. Her goals are to interrupt every day space and timelines with reminders of war in a way that is simultaneously intrusive and inviting. Savannah's work is an attempt to start and participate in a necessary conversation about veteran's, war, and the repercussions of war on family and home life. Follow one of her current projects on Instagram @sixdegreesofmyfather.
“Dreamland” was curated by piecing together multiple stories and poems written throughout Kater’s MFA. It is a patchwork of poems intended to represent the multitude of soldiers’ voices that have appeared throughout her life. All of the voices become one voice. “It is all the same war.”