The Poet Spoke for Me


The Israeli man I married—and divorced—had parents who were born in Chernivtsi, then in Romania, now in Ukraine. We met on the way to Machu Picchu after he finished his mandatory military service in Israel during the first intifada. He had big dreams about peace. He wanted peace “like you have on a sheep farm in New Zealand.” I wanted a big adventure—like my grandfather who flew cargo missions over the Himalayas, the hump, from India to China during World War II. My father, who served as a combat soldier in Vietnam, told me, and my brother and sister, that war is a waste. But I had to learn, too. I wrote a memoir about his tour in Vietnam and our trip back together, and another one about my relationship with the Israeli man and the trauma of the Gulf War. I watched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the same dread as I watch the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Friends and acquaintances posted links about the war on social media but I was silent. Until I read a poem by a Cambodian-American refugee who pinpointed my feelings. He detailed the bombings and fear and then he wondered what else there was to say. “Everything seems trivial, unwise,” he wrote. Exactly, I thought, and I shared his poem.

About the Poem

The Cambodian-American poet Bunkong Tuon spoke for me with his poem “After Bombs Drop” in New Verse News.

About the Author

Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Walking A&P (2018) and Black Elephants (2011)—shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction. She is also the author of two poetry chapbooks. Her full collection was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry.

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