Lisa L. Siedlarz's

What We Sign Up For

ISBN: 978-1-931247-96-2 $15 (Available only in paperback)


About Lisa L. Siedlarz

Lisa L. Siedlarz is the editor of Connecticut River Review and Managing Editor for Connecticut Review. Recipient of the John Holmes Poetry prize and the Leo Connellan award, her poetry is widely published in journals such as The MacGuffin and Louisiana Literature, and has been anthologized in Warsaw Tales and Battle Runes: Writings on War. Her debut chapbook, I Dream My Brother Plays Baseball, was published by Clemson University. She facilitates a bi-monthly creative writing workshop with combat veterans and their families at the New Haven Vet Center.


“Love is reaffirmed through the difficult journey in What We Sign Up For; it is tested by fire and augmented by it. These poems resonate far beyond the battlefield, as life often places each of us on the homefront within the lives of those we love. Siedlarz shifts the camera’s eye, section by section, so that what once begins in an intimate and personal way expands outward—the result is a book capable of affecting anyone who will take the time to open these pages and experience the world contained in these poems.” —Brian Turner

Pecan Grove Press

“Between fragmentary slippages of found language, photos, poems derived from photos, linguistic collage, personal correspondence and poems of her soldier brother fighting in Afghanistan, Lisa Siedlarz offers us a deeply insightful and penetrating vision of ‘what we don’t see.’ In a century where conflict is the poet’s common script, this book stands tall for its ambition and its bravery. Out of these fragments and small narratives something wholly human and sustaining emerges. Something both personal and communal. This is a book, that in the right hands, could end a war. Read it and believe.” —Sean Thomas Dougherty

“Lisa Siedlarz’s What We Sign Up For is a heartrending photo album of war and a study of its equally harrowing effect on those who go and those who stay. ‘My family has always practiced not touching. Now rules / are illogical. I throw my arms around my brother.’ The poems here are disarmingly candid, unadorned in their pain and fear and longing. The war’s barren landscape obscures family ritual, usurps all private history in a sacrificial storm of dust, while the cacophony of combat and sacrifice, of the bloody and surreal desecration of the body, all painfully imagined, continue as if in unabated dream. ‘Bury me in the sand and I will envy how clouds move on / like breath,’ the soldier states, both wish and lament, every thought offered as a letter home. In these courageously personal poems, Siedlarz manages still to speak for all of us, in a language powerfully human. ‘With my arms full, I run bases calling your name.’ That language’s central, tearful word, of course, is love.” —Gaylord Brewer

Tea with Elders


Today we drive through minefields
dressed in pounds: helmet, seven;
ceramic body armor, twenty two;
load-bearing vest packed with batteries,
bullets and grenades, thirty.
We are walking bombs.

Dawn breaks with the stench
of Shit Lagoon. A dust devil whips
by portajohns. Our ‘terp calls it
a Djinn of free will that whispers
give in to this evil.

Hot winds of diesel and disinfectant,
desert littered with silver hulls
of Russian fighters, wrecked tanks
and trucks. Mosques, schools are rubble.
Mudbrick huts huddle between walls.
Our boots whoof up knee-high clouds.

Everything’s dust in Ass-Crack-istan.
Children with fly-covered smiles spill
out chanting kalam. Pens we give out
are novelties. A village elder greets us
with a girl whose bald head is covered
in oozing sores. We give iodine, gauze.

The elder touches his heart, invites us in.
We peel off our armor, sit on the floor.
Antifreeze jugs hold ice. He presents
Khoshgovar, Iranian cola, hocks spit
into a spotted glass, wipes it on his dusty
robe, fills our glasses.

We want Americans to stay, he says
through our ‘terp, If you leave, we’ll have
more war. The old man takes my arm,
How to show my love? I raise my
glass of tea, touch it to his.


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Most recent revision
November 11, 2003

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