Collateral

Meet Ashley, a graduate student at San Diego State University. She was raised in northern California reading poetry and singing back-up in her best friend’s band. The last thing she ever expected was to end up a military wife. But one night, she meets a handsome Marine named Cole. He doesn’t match the stereotype of the aggressive military man she’d always presumed to be true; he’s passionate and romantic, and he even writes poetry. Their relationship evolves into a deeply felt, sexually charged love affair that goes on for five years and survives four deployments. Cole desperately wants Ashley to marry him, but when she meets another man, a college professor, with similar professional pursuits and values, she begins to see what life might be like outside the shadow of war.

Written in Ellen Hopkins’s stunning poetic verse style, Collateral captures the hearts of the soldiers on the battlefield and the minds of the friends, family, and lovers they leave behind. While those at home may be far from the relentless, sand-choked skies of the Middle East and the crosshairs of a sniper rifle, they too sacrifice their lives and happiness for their country at war. And all must eventually ask themselves if the collateral damage it causes is worth the fight.

Collateral Audio Excerpt

 

Collateral Excerpt


Ugly in Black

As Earth returns to chaos, her women brace to mourn,
excavate their buried faith, tap reservoirs of grace, to mourn.

Soldiers steady M-16s, search stillborn eyes for welcome or
signs of commonality. Ferreting no trace, they mourn.

Few are safe, where passions swell like gangrened limbs
you cannot amputate. Sever one, another takes its place,
and you mourn.

Freefall into martyrdom, a bronze-skinned youth slips
into the crowd, pulls the pin. He and destiny embrace,
together mourn.

Grenades are colorblind. A woman falls, spilling ebon
hair beside the blond in camouflage. Death’s doorman
gives chase. All mourn.

Even hell capitulates to sudden downpour. Cloudburst
sweeps across the hardpan, cracks its bloodstained
carapace. Hear God mourn.

Up through scattered motes, a daughter reaches for
an album. She climbs into a rocking chair to search
for Daddy’s face, and mourn.

Downstairs, a widow splinters on the bed, drops
her head into his silhouette, etched in linen on
the pillowcase, to mourn.

Alone, the world is ugly in black. When final night
descends to blanket memory, drops its shroud
of tattered lace, who will mourn?

Present
Poets Write Eloquently

About war, creating vivid images
of severed limbs, crusting body fluids
and restless final sleep, using nothing
more than a few well-crafted words.
Easy enough to jab philosophically
from the comfort of a warm winter
hearth or an air conditioned summer.
But what can a sequestered writer know

of frontline realities—blistering
marches under relentless sand-choked
skies, where you’d better drink
your weight in water every day or die

from dehydration. Flipside—teeth-
cracking nights, too frigid for action,
bored out of your mind as you try
to stay warm in front of a makeshift fire.

How can any distant observer know
of traversing rock-rutted trails,
hyperaware that your camouflage comes
with a built-in bulls-eye; or of sleeping

with one ear listening for incoming
peril; or of the way fear clogs your
pores every time you climb inside
a Humvee and head out for a drive.

You can see these things in movies.
But you can’t understand the way
they gnaw your heart and corrode
your mind, unless you’ve been a soldier

outside the wire in country where
no one native is really your friend,
and anyone might be your enemy.
You don’t know till you’re ducking

bullets. The only person you dare rely
on is the buddy who looks a lot like
you—too young for this, leaking bravado,
and wearing the same uniform.

Even people who love soldiers—
people like me—can only know these
things tangentially, and not so much
because of what our beloveds tell us

as what they’ll never be able to.

Loving Any Soldier

Is extremely hard. Loving a Marine
who’s an aggressive front-line marksman

is almost impossible, especially when
he’s deployed. That’s not now. Currently,

Cole is on base in Kaneohe, awaiting
orders. The good thing about that is

I get to talk to him pretty much every
day. The bad thing is, we both know

he’ll go back to the Middle East as soon
as some Pentagon strategist decides

the time is right, again. Cole’s battalion
has already deployed twice to Iraq

and once to Afghanistan. Draw-down
be damned, Helmand Province and beyond

looks likely for his fourth go-round.
You’d think it would get easier. But ask

me, three scratch-free homecomings
make another less likely in the future.

Of Course, If You Ask

totally from me, he slips a hand
down the scoop of my tank.
Can’t wait to kiss these, too.

Me about falling in love
with a guy in the military,
I’d tell you to about face
and double-time toward

a decent, sensible civilian.
Someone with a fat bank
account and solid future,
built on dreams entirely

his own. I’d advise you
to detour widely around
any man who prefers fatigues
to a well-worn pair of jeans;

whose romantic getaways
are defined by three-day
leaves; who, at age twenty-
six has drunk more liquor

than most people manage
in a lifetime. He and his
fellow grunts would claim
it’s just for fun. A way to let

their hair down, if they had
much hair to speak of. But
those they leave behind,
devoted shadows, understand

that each booze-soaked
night is a short-lived
retrieve from uncertain
tomorrows, unspeakable

yesterdays. Service. Sacrifice.
The problem with that being,
everyone attached to those
soldiers must sacrifice, too.

So, as some Afghani warlord
might say, put that in your
pipe and smoke it. Okay, that
was actually my grandpa’s saying.

But it works, and what I mean
is, think long and hard before
offering your heart to someone
who can only accept it part time.
Too Late For Me

I didn’t go looking for some dude
with crewed yellow hair and piercing
golden eyes. It just happened.
So here I am, in the second year
of my MFA program at San Diego
State, while he brushes up his sniper

skills twenty-six hundred miles away.
Some people consider Hawaii paradise,
an odd place for a Marine base. Except,
if you consider war in the Pacific Theater.
Except, why not? I’m elbow-deep in
Chaucer when his call, expected, comes.

Hey babe. His voice is a slow burn,
melting all hint of chill inside me.
Word came down today. Two weeks.
How fast can you get here? I need
serious Ash time.  And, I’ve got a surprise
for you. Something . . .  really special.

“Sounds intriguing. No hints?”
He refuses and I consider what
it will take to reach him. “I’ll look
into flights and let you know. Probably
next weekend.” It will be a pricey ticket.
But I have no choice. Cole Gleason is my heart.

 


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