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Siedlarz, Lisa L. I Dream My Brother Plays Baseball. Clemson University Digital Press. 2009. ISBN: 978-0-9796066-6-3, 30pp. $10 [To order, please order directly from the press's ordering page at ]



In I Dream My Brother Plays Baseball, Lisa L. Siedlarz takes a very fresh view of a very old subject:  a young man’s blood baptism in war.  This time, the young man’s sister struggles to comprehend what and why her brother goes to Afghanistan and what his life there must have been like.  But it’s a much larger exploration than that simple retelling of the thematic “plot” of this fine debut collection of narrative war poems.

From the first poem, “Operation Enduring Freedom,” when the young warrior’s sister shows her own anxiety about his leaving, the poem’s point of view is dual:  the sister observing, commenting—the brother interpreted through her eyes and consciousness.  This dual consciousness in the book works.  Consider these lines from the second poem in the book, also told from the sister’s point of view, “I’m G.I Joe”:  …my younger brother would say, jumping and fighting, / plastic men bearing arms from his command.  The octave of this non-rhyming sonnet ends with a deliberate cliché: “The Army motto: Be all that you can be.” The octave takes the brother from children’s games through high school and enlistment.  With a bare break, a small pause, the volta inserts the sonnet’s sestet into grim preparations for war:  “82nd Airborne he jumps with sixty-two pound parachutes.”

Siedlarz moves close to prose but never steps over the boundary.  Her poems are narrative, often conversational in style, but do not move into the territory of the personal essay.  Take these lines from “Eleven Hours to Hell” for example:

The anaphora here, that constant alliterative repetition of bilabial plosive sounds, the repeated Ps and Bs, elevate the poem, lift it out of the realms of prose by providing a cadence to the lines that paces the jogging group of soldiers.   

This whole first section of the poem, aptly called “Sister Speaks,” is told from the point of view of a soldier’s sister who will remain on the home front, waiting, sometimes praying.  The second section, “Brother Speaks,” shows the sister moving in, projecting herself, trying to imagine and voice experience from that imagination, what the brother goes through in Afghanistan.

No sleep.  Swelter chokes, tricks / my brain with shadows so dense / I press night vision goggles to my eyes / until my arms burn and shake. Any soldier who has stood guard duty for the first night in a region like that in which the brother finds himself in Afghanistan will recognize the experience, the nervousness.  The lines here become more broken, less fluid, as Siedlarz captures the brother’s experience in “First Night:  Watchtower.”

Much of what goes on in wars is boring, but in Afghanistan patrols can move from boredom to intense emotional highs.  Siedlarz captures the boredom, the sheer weight of a soldier’s daily activities, beautifully in “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 with elephant grace.

In the last section of the book, the point of view shifts back to the sister, this time looking at her brother’s photographs from his war in Afghanistan.  These are mostly shorter poems, ekphrastic.  In one extremely fine poem, Siedlarz entitled “Who Is She?” the sister points to a photograph, asks who a little girl in the picture is.  The octave of this fine sonnet paints a picture of her and then turns in the sestet as the young Afghani girl’s eyes turn:

Her black eyes are turned inward, away from the endless
dust, endless echoes of gunshots and explosions.
She was ten, my brother says, just stopped eating.
He shakes his head.  Lost her will.  I look into her eyes

see how she turns in and in until she is weightless. 
Blossoming into wings, did she rise up with the wind?” 

The poems in this final section of I Dream My Brother Plays Baseball fulfill the promise of the first two sections.  The first two sections, almost exclusively narrative, do comment on war and what war does to its participants.  The final section explodes outward, reminds us that all of the very good war poetry, from Whitman through Weigl, Ehrhart, and Komunyakaa, is essentially anti-war.  The title poem, the final poem in this small in size but large in concept collection is haunting, unforgettable. It takes us full circle back to the games at the beginning of the book, but closes with a chilling scene With my arms full, I run bases calling your name. / Rounding third, white-faced hornets block the way / home, the nest hidden in surrounding caves.

[Highly Recommended]