"The Land Remembers" and "Zone Rouge"
By Amalie Flynn
Amalie Flynn, author of the memoir Wife and War: The Memoir, her story of surviving 9-11 and her husband's 15-month deployment to Afghanistan, shows in her poems "The Land Remembers" and "Zone rouge" (red zone) that her experience also belongs to a universal history of war, including WWI. "Zone rouge" is the French name for the almost 120,000 hectares of battlefields that incurred major physical damage to the environment during WWI. Due to the presence of thousands of corpses and an estimated 60 million unexploded munitions, certain activities in the area were provisionally or permanently prohibited by law to the public after the war. No one was allowed to build or alter the designated areas. However, in order to preserve the traces of war in the landscape, trees needed to be planted to stabilize the soil. To the surprise of many, these ravaged moonscapes flourished into forests and lush fields years later. Today, It is estimated that 80,000 soldiers remain buried underneath. Read Flynn, who has also published in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and TIME, as she brings a contemporary poetic eye to France's battle-torn landscapes at WWrite this week!
The Land Remembers
Trenches that twist and turn like empty veins. Bomb craters. Chemical foliage forests. Vapor cities. Burn pits. Dust cities. Radioactive rivers. Dioxin dug into the ground. Unexploded ordnance. Landmines strewn. Alive and circular like metal breasts. A child standing on top of a pile of what is left behind. When war floods a place. The land remembers. It holds war and keeps it. War sinks in a river. Accumulates in the gill of a poisoned fish. Laces itself in the soil and sediment. Twists inside trunks of trees. The land remembers.
Or how it bears witness to our forgetting.
And when war flooded France. The fields and the forests of Verdun. It drenched the land with bodies and bombs and blood. Or after. How the government marked the land destroyed. A no-go zone. Because war sank into that land. And never went away.
A century later.
How war is still there.
(a poem for the centennial)
When the land was.
Full of bodies dead. And twisted.
When the fighting was.
With bodies. Dead. Twisted on a riverbank.
Wrist bent. Hand hovers. Over water.
Dead bodies with fingers. Like feathers.
Stretched feathers or the calamus.
Attaching to bird skin.
These are bodies. Bodies of war.
Dead with. Feathered fingers.
Wing of a bird.
300 days of shelling.
The shells were 240 mm. Full of shrapnel.
Hitting men and hitting ground.
Making holes. Upon impact.
Bloom and rip.
Ripping through dirt and faces.
Ripped skin. Ripping off tissue.
Hole in the center of an ear.
Exposing canal and bone
Missing teeth. One lower jaw is.
Gone. A set of lips.
The chunk of a chin.
And the shells. Shells from Verdun.
Are still there.
Unexploded ordnance. Sunk.
Into dirt pockets. Like seeds.
This blooming. Metal war.
Shrapnel that looks like rocks or.
Smooth egg of a bird.
Soil made of mud and men and metal.
How. Metal leaches and clings.
This soil of war.
Chlorine and lead and mercury and arsenic.
Where every tree and every plant and every animal.
Each blade of grass.
Where 99% of everything died.
Ground stripped raw.
Stripped earth tissue or how this is.
What war also.
Damage to properties: 100%
Damage to agriculture: 100%
Impossible to clean.
Human life impossible.
The government declared it uninhabitable.
A no-go zone.
Broken skeletons of villages.
And the craters that bombs make.
Deep and round holes.
How the bomb craters filled with water.
Making. War ponds.
This is a place.
Where almost everything died.
But the land.
The land was still alive.
Grass stretching again and.
Grafting itself over the bone.
Bone of what happened.
Stretching over trenches and scars.
Like new skin.
And plants and trees and vines
Rodents and snails and voles and mice.
Deer. Wildcats with metal stomachs.
Still living I say. To my husband.
Who went to war.
War that he did not want.
How he came home with hands and feet.
Covered in blisters. Lesions the doctor said.
Skin burning. Waking up to him crouched.
On the floor and scratching. Saying I don’t know.
And I know.
That this is how war is.
Or later. I will lay in the darkness.
And think about the burn pits in Iraq.
Black smoke and jet fuel and fumes.
About Vietnam sprayed. The bare mudflats after.
Defoliation of trees. And birds. Missing mangroves.
How dioxin poisons wind. Sleeps. In a river or sediment.
The fatty tissue of a fish. Atomic blasts in Hiroshima and.
Nagasaki. The incineration of bodies and land.
Tearing skin off people. Tearing trees out of ground.
How black rain fell. Radioactive bomb debris.
Into mouths. Of people and rivers.
How radiation lives. In grass and soil. The intestine of a cow.
About the GWOT. Blood soaked years and streets and.
How many miles of land. Where we let bombs.
Unexploded or forever.
I will think about Zone Rouge.
Trenches like scars.
My husband gardening. The tendons in his arms.
Moving like trees.
Or how war never goes away.
*WWrite is grateful to The Wrath-Bearing Tree for sharing "Zone Rouge." It was first published on November 5, 2018.
Amalie Flynn is a poet and the author of Wife and War: The Memoir (2013) and a collection of poetry blogs: September Eleventh, Wife and War, and The Sustainability of Us. Flynn’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, and The Huffington Post and has received mention from The New York Times and CNN. Flynn has a BA in English / Studio Arts, an MFA in Creative Writing, and a PhD in Humanities. She lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their two children. Her next book, a collection of poems about women and land, is forthcoming.