I. WHEN WE LIVED IN CARAVANS
When we lived in caravans outside Jericho
the girls wore their bras to shower,
rubbed them with soap.
There was “choking-cake” for breakfast and dinner.
We strolled around a single palm tree
clasping each other’s elbows in the mineral sunset.
Then Siberia – my hair started falling out,
a mouse or rat in the bathroom,
we ate contraband sandwiches of sardines slathered in mustard.
When the boys got drunk
you flicked your thumb and forefinger against your throat.
The guards outside the compound were drunk;
fired their guns in the air.
First cunnilingus like lace
with the winter breeze coming through the window.
The town is surrounded by grape arbors, cemeteries.
II. ARMY PRANKS
First day taken to sign for office equipment:
two computers, a refrigerator. Want to sign for a tank?
Past the pudding-faced Shelley. Knew her from before
we all knew her daughter of a poet all acquiescence.
Once late at a clinic
A prisoner was brought in, his eyes bandaged covered over
worn pants and t-shirt no uniform
what had gone down it wasn’t discussed.
We all went through with it.
Shoved me into a room
a man wearing stripes on his shoulders
questioned me about my mean life.
He lectured disciplinary codes, security codes
who could get past the door on holidays
complained about his wooden leg his nightmares,
did I have a boyfriend? Slept with anyone?
yelled kussemmak! sounded like yourmotherscunt! said it was his leg
but he had to ask what experience I had
security breaches loud or mumbled. I did worry
about his leg, and what did I do on my day off and did I go dancing?
My open face, soft everywhere under this
didn’t you guess he was joking – a wooden leg!
The other soldiers being children at a birthday party.
Do you prefer baths or showers? Are you attracted to short men?
Lie down on the obsolete maps of Jordan
audition the men to take you. Mix ketchup, flour and water,
oil and soy sauce to throw on the lucky one leaving.
The other girls stole my trashcan I was put on trial
had to wear my beret salute the officer.
Why are we so bad? Why are we “the worst unit
to ever go through basic training?” Tried hard to
fold the ugly blankets into perfect eighths
if you didn’t fold them right shake them out right
you’d get scabies. Or don’t ever tell a man on a bus
how many girls sleep in a room
because the Syrians can multiply girls
and discover how many we have in total.
III. LATE DRAFT NOTICE, ALCATRAZ & TELEGRAPH
A recurring dream of soldiers
come to the door
It’s time to come home.
It goes without saying
you’ve slid down the monster with red tongues
we claim you for our own.
The problem of their thinness.
Two immigrants walking up the hill
How easily they disappear
carrying bowlfuls of liquid
war like an heirloom
try locking them in the wild
garden. The briars will not
keep them. They squabble over what they can remember.
The soldiers clad in purple, crimson, lavender
stuffed into the bellies of fish
like sweet, angry jewels.
The immigrants dream
of the dream soldiers.
How could they have lost
those dazzling soldiers?
Somewhere far away
shooting and weeping
IV. I SUMMON THEM
General Hanson Vivian slowly set Violet down
My sister refused he smelled it plainly
Rode in her direction
Her spelling mistakes the reason everything here is clear of smoke
What direction is the wind?
She didn’t care about the buttery songs
The smoke of battle is thick, awful thick
They said your mother would iron your uniform
I can see the long faint sheet of carmine reflection
Advancing in squares
We cried, the soldiers to become dead angels
It was overlapping all the officers in the vicinity
I will do what needs to be done
General Vivian’s lines in considerable danger
His brother hid beneath the bed during the invasion
So harassed by the ravaging firestorm
I’d be convinced by the heavy gold on his finger
Can’t we manage to stop?
It’s something bigger than might and main
Violet and her sisters, father-of-the-dew, which is a girl and a flower,
The whole right wing.
V. GIRLS ATTACHED TO GIRLS
girls attached to girls / with long braids
battlefield in the marshland
the grasses / vivid / against / their uniforms
girls / attached to small wooden houses
by long braids / (long brides)
bundles / on their backs / wearing black cocktail dresses
double headed spit monster
against the elevated track
the muddy dry sward
under the overpass wearing/ runaway / leather
jackets/ lie over each other
fall to the ground / pretending to be rag dolls
cloned my own shape/ to lie
on the ground / getting shot/ in battle / ornate
interior with multiple figures/ the beauty pageant girls
landed on a planet of oversized sunflowers
waiting for the blinding rain to stop
adolescent boys / in yellow rain jackets/ carrying a boy
tied to a tree
hoods / pointy firs / greydark / sharp against
their slick faces
photoshopped male genitalia onto the blond girl / clones / in dream-like expressions
I am ground control and they are my satellites
the object of the game they play is to conquer the world and complete it
VI. MY LIFE AS A BORDER GUARD
Solomon or Moses campaigns
preferably from several fabrics of different colors.
Peace with Jordan, just across the river.
All night open up this area of continual disturbances.
Fed canned meat for breakfast in shifts,
and kept checking them through.
This is what you do in a war to prepare for peace.
The new Palestinian police force crossed over
the Jordan river, like pilgrims.
The stifled perspective plush for the eyes.
Did I already say my job was to look through their luggage?
The appearance of walling in a massive eternity
already known as the spaceship white gloves of me
through the metal detector.
If a woman had her uniform tailored it was better
but sinister, why would you want to have an army uniform tailored?
Their police wore slippers as if under house arrest.
The use of concrete and cement.
This population suffocating in the narrow, tangled, putrid alleys
in which it was forcibly confined.
Did I tell you about the long wasted mornings,
my black sandals which were regulation
only he didn’t think they gave a professional appearance.
Meanwhile in the bathroom: Howard’s End. Maurice.
The complete works. They come across as flat, dead, obstructed.
The UN soldiers’ berets are baby blue.
Even in miniature one cannot do –
the impossibility of obtaining permission to photograph
if there was a concealed bomb in one of the suitcases.
The air conditioner didn’t work so good or too strong:
in the break room the smell of old banana peels and sweat turning cold.
Robs natives and foreigners alike of both breathing space and space for reflection.
Reading forbidden in the bathroom.
We confiscate their shoes.
The government however
does not mean to pass over people like a storm;
it wants to engrave itself lastingly in their existence.
Welcome home, we told the pilgrims.
If you didn’t wear your uniform you could be mistaken for a whore.
Soldier-boys fell asleep on buses with their gun pointed at you.
We would be called to from car windows
transfixed at the very doors of the imagination.
VII. THE GIRLS ARE FLEEING CYCLONES, MEN IN CIVIL WAR UNIFORMS CARRYING BAYONETS, THEIR BODIES TURN ORANGE IN THE FLAMES
In picture after picture, you want to lift their matching yellow sundresses,
expose what’s underneath, not their face: their true expressions.
I should have run away as a girl
but my parents owned all the wild forests.
He drew the thunderstorm according to the lines in his palm.
The fortune teller reads his heart in these gusts of wind.
Look, a man lies dead. In dream logic, if you carry a gun you will be killed.
What female folds are drawn beneath the soldier’s uniforms?
From a distance the patterns of their uniforms jumbled together like a heap of alphabet.
The girls take up the battle standards with bows in their hair,
faces cut-out dolls, copied from catalogues.
At Norma Catherine? Brutally treated.
When you think beyond the exposed genitals, there are also the knees
to consider. So knobby so liable to be skinned.
At Sunbeam Creek are with the little girl refugees again.
A girl runs screaming from the fire in a transparent skirt,
see her belly button, see her penis. The compulsion
to name girls ending in the sound ah. Didn’t the parents know
the ah would trip them up while running from the battle of Drosabellamaximillian?
The Refugee girls also the same, but dressed in older-looking dresses. Bluedress
whispers to Purpledress, behind her hand to Pinkdress. The slave rulers wear black
mortarboards. The flowers burn behind them.
Some days I’ll have to take up battle standards in pigtails and sundress,
underwear showing, only my bones to protect me.
VIII. AT GENERAL DARGER BRIDGE: FALL! CRAWL! SURVEY! RANGE! FIRE!
At general darger bridge often playing with the soldiers the foxes, the skirts,
the matches, the crow
forbids reading novels in the bathroom
cawing through the walkie– talkie we play duck and cover or roll and
duck when you meet the enemy the soldiers
performing wonderful feats of acrobatics FALL!
(fake sounds of fireworks)
the colors painted brilliant across the sky
and why are the girls sleeping in a jail? twelve to a room, they hold
pillows between bony legs
they are soldiers,
are they not soldiers?
the girls now burrowing under imaginary tunnels
the dirt in their can-can skirts
or should I say
the skirts now burrowing under imaginary barricades
the dirt in their can-can girls
the safest spot of course from which to SURVEY! the enemy
from now on I will call them fireworks or flowers
made from crepe paper, decorated the bridge for holidays
why you must escort the blind who arrive being unable SURVEY!
on their own.
RANGE! the estimated distance and direction of target-shooting tool.
the skirts have a tough look in their eyes
they roll themselves in carpets
wait for the enemy to make himself known
perhaps some fake cigarettes, the skirts being tough like a cabaret show.
the enemy making himself known or you see him first
but now it is a soldier pretending to be the enemy the soldier meaning:
a match and not a skirt,
the fire not being right now live but imagine it is a live fire
also being called on the walkie-talkie, the skirts being flammable
or some times girl-soldiers are called mattresses the blond girl-officers have a different name
all ending, though, with the same diminutive
(as in teaspoon):
IX. TO HIDE OUR REAL IDENTITIES
the basilicas of the Russian Compound are painted in green.
A neighborhood of windmills, a neighborhood of staircases.
A vision of God in crayons and paints,
diagrams for the interiors of our bodies, pearls and blood, gold
tongued. Our personal experience of life on other planets
all the important markings carefully placed and properly colored
using images to communicate with the dead.
We will show you what a good job we did.
Depicting the machines our enemies use to torture us from a distance.
Diagramming a cure which we have invented.
Expanding or contracting the vessels according to a baroque plan.
Illustrating our sinking land masses, our rivers leaving their beds
wearing nothing but flimsy nightgowns
flaming islands drifting through the night.
Drawing architectural plans for buildings to be erected in emerald cities.
Canopy of crimson clouds
spreading across the sky near the zenith,
moving forward with the most amazing rapidity.
Designing and printing our own money.
Making bizarre costumes to wear in our new worlds.
X. MY FATHER IN LEBANON OR TEXAS
My father in Lebanon or Texas swims laps getting burnt,
listens to country music or he commands
the Mickey Mouse base or he is guarding the prison
with his bags of cookies.
My father was called to war in Lebanon or Texas.
A man came to the door from his unit, or codes
were broadcast on TV against a background of wheat fields.
“Shoes of a Doll” or “Amputated Fingers.”
Their uniforms too came out of sea trunks.
Under oath or vow or torture I couldn’t tell you.
Called up – the women, the girls, the guinea pigs
called Ginger and Nutmeg,
Cottontail and Honeyfluff and Honeysuckle,
often needing tragic, weepy burials.
The snow on TV in Lebanon or Texas,
the reception being very bad.
Sometimes we organized long marches
just to see the Muppets.
How he went off to war
and came home carrying a bag of cherries.
The soldiers shuttled to the edges
sleeping in fields or behind bus stops.
My father in Lebanon or Texas
slept in a parking lot, showered under a tank.
All the naked men shower in parking lots
the villages won’t say,
the trees heavy with unpicked cherries.
No, no! I won’t come back from the Darger forests!
Our lips are not our lips.
The girl gangs are angrier
And more scabbed than you can imagine.
XII. EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS
In this general war storm which is sweeping
throughout the state of Calverinia and Angelinia
I am drunk all the time.
Who is righteously responsible for the war?
A year like “the long eighteenth century.”
There are accounts also of spies.
Arrive at work with a massive typhoon
phone booths full of scratched out numbers
always lying down on some sticky
surface or other liquids
like machine oil.
Let the reader follow battle after battle,
clothes the color of snot and mud.
Often mice scurrying across the bathroom floor,
men who are more scared of mice
let us tell the mice from the men.
The time keeps passing it doesn’t matter where
you put your body or in the middle
of the night often among any civil or army population
driving hours to another base. Is this
debauchery enough for you in the presence of real danger?
XIII. WAR ON GRAMMAR
Military pieces strangely unconvincing
an interminable and cumulative effect
of a single sentence
repeated again and again
fast forward and rewind
bombs coming down on buildings
the four children running on the beach
the rusted skeletons of cars by the wayside
and at Latrun kids are playing on the tanks
or we are buying cheese by the monastery
blast resistant hatches
the drones with wings and crowns
merciful or dreadful
it was not the arm of God
it was our finest girls and boys
it was their lives
it was where they gathered
sprawled on a road or cowering together in a UN school
hiding under the bed or behind a pine tree
concealed behind enemy lines
spent the war sewing German parachutes didn’t
know to make a strong effort to turn the main
sentences or paragraphs telling you what to think.
XIV. THE WAR GOES ON FOREVER
the battle scars on your face being real, being real battles, filled with suspicion.
And if you trotted up with fancy purple
mosaics clipped to your ears
lipstick covering your mouth and teeth
it wouldn’t be enough to indicate your guilt or shame.
They are blond, obviously.
Perhaps in that nightgown your hair held behind your head into a bob
you can convince your shadow.
They are still being choked or being tied to gravestones
or a man with a horse has got one flying, suspended behind him.
But the water was as pure as rainwater.
You catch your expression reflected in the window,
the give away of your large hands.
Who stands for the occupying army?
Violet and her sisters excited beyond doubt.
Looking with an inquiring glance a sort of motion for them.
Standing outside next to the beauty of the Vivian girls
after the reputation you have made for yourselves
surely could take pleasure in resembling them,
impersonating the victims in fish net stockings.
XV. BE A GOOD SOLDIER
The state reaches out through you into the world
calls you back in dream codes
playing togivethesoulandheart at every rally memorial telethon ear-
worm motherland or large chest to lean on
I was green.
I was not allowed dangly earrings.
I was not allowed to dehydrate my dacronbody
was army property and would be judged as such.
The bureaucratic ceremonies I took part in while it happened
somehow to the side of me
resist this desire to say the words you want
to have our common memories
to join in, to be somebody’s daughter
took a pregnancy test at a medical base in Be’er Sheva
was given a stern talking to by a female officer
& no anal sex, the army doctor said
small fish, we are only small
fish in history, my mother said
booming from the bus loudspeakers
The title is taken from Justine Kurland’s description of her work in the catalogue of “DARGERism: Contemporary Artists and Henry Darger”: “The idea of Darger preceded my seeing his work, and I was as much influenced by this rumor of Darger’s armies of girls as I was when I finally saw his work.” Henry Darger, a reclusive and eccentric janitor and dishwasher, spent the first decades of the twentieth century composing a fantasy novel spanning over 15,000 typed pages, which he called, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. On a nearby planet, the Catholic kingdoms of Angelinia must go to war against the satanic nation of Glandelienia, which practices an abhorrent form of child slavery. Seven princess-orphans, the Vivian Girls, become warriors and eventually help liberate the child slaves. Much of this poem quotes from his written work.
VI. MY LIFE AS A BORDER GUARD: Some lines are from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.
IX. TO HIDE OUR REAL IDENTITIES: The Russian Compound, in Jerusalem, used to be owned by the Russian Orthodox Church, and is now primarily used as a prison. Its underground rooms are used for torture by Israeli internal security services. The small neighborhood, distinguished by its basilicas and former pilgrim hospices, as well as huddling families of detainees, also used to be the center of Jerusalem’s pub nightlife. Many lines are taken from Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal, by John M. MacGregor.
XIII. WAR ON GRAMMAR: Latrun is a monastery & a fort on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a site of battles and shoot-outs in the 1947-8 war. Wrecked cars have been preserved by the side of the road as a memorial to ambushed convoys to Jerusalem. In the 2014 war on Gaza, “Operation Protective Edge,”/ “Operation Strong Cliff,” Israel bombed UNRWA schools including the Rafah Preparatory A Boys School, which sheltered approx. 2,700 to 2,900 people. Among the more than 500 children killed by the IDF that summer, four boys were shelled while playing on the beach, all from the Bakr family.