This Open Eye: Seeing What We Do


These poems are dedicated to every survivor whose body or heart has been broken, and to the memory of every soul whose heart has been stopped, by those of us who kill so easily—whether the killing was called a violent crime, an act of war, an act of terrorism or collateral damage, and regardless of where the killing took place. 

The details don’t make much difference to the dead.

You’re Either With Us

Mouth slightly open,
eyes begin to squint,
the ten-year-old sits
in bed on the dark blue
blanket, brown hair
pulled back in a bun.
Her dress, a collage of tiny
green and violet flowers,
two large lilies pinned
like badges on her chest.
At the floral pattern’s
edge, bright white
gauze around her left
upper thigh alternates with
bands of red-orange fluid
oozing from skinless flesh
down to her foot.  Where her
right leg should be the violet
and green dress meets the
bed’s blue blanket.

This Open Eye is a powerful, devastating, and stunningly beautiful book.  Reggie Marra has unfalteringly absorbed the images and voices of the war in Iraq, pared them down to the bone, and handed them back to us that we, too, might bear witness to our times.  Not in any of these poems, or the essay, has he taken the easy way out.  Like Breyten Breytenbach, Nelly Sachs, and Antonio Machado before him, Marra reclaims the essentially human from both the brutal and the brutalized.”
– Trebbe Johnson, author of The World is a Waiting Lover: Desire and the
Quest  for the Beloved


Going Home

Near Kirkuk
five soldiers watch
or work
while two wheel
the blood-soaked
gurney from the
inflated O.R. The
sergeant’s leg
and discarded, time
will tell if
as well.

“Reggie Marra writes with stunning, graphic precision—brutal scenes the American news skips over, scenes of endless sorrow that politicians bury under false phrases like ‘total victory.’ I read these small but huge poems with a chill of recognition and gratitude—thank goodness for poets like Reggie Marra who look deeply and care even more deeply about telling the truth. These poems are tributes to the nearly-invisible wounded and the honest humanity so many of us yearn for now.”
– Naomi Shihab Nye, author, You & Yours (2005); National Book Award  finalist, 19 Varieties of Gazelle (2002)

What Tries to Escape

Twelve-year-old bandaged
head rests on the garish
green, red and beige pillow.
Eyes full and focused,
lips pressed together
suppress what tries to
escape. Except for
the triangle of neck,
right shoulder, and breast,
his scorched torso hides
beneath white ointment.
Three or four inches of
gauze caress the
stumps that remain
where he once
had arms.

“Reggie Marra captures the tragedy of war from all angles. His vision expands beyond gender and race to embrace the humanity of us all. Unafraid to depict the graphic consequences of hate, uninhibited in his words by the politics of aggression, Reggie bravely steps into the epicenter of world conflict and individual suffering. He captures the colors of youth and the mud of death, creating a dichotomous reality that has brought poets and artists to their knees since the dawn of civilization. Reggie is the journalist of our times….”
– Eileen Albrizio, author, Messy on the Inside (1998); Rain—Dark as Water in Winter (2002); and On the Edge (2003)

Give It Back

photo op over
we learn the
vehicle that crushed your
legs and pelvis was
American driven. Your
Purple Heart a mistake,
you have to
splintered bones,
you get to keep.

This Open Eye

Swollen shut the right
eye seeps semi-clotted
blood that streams
and blotches a map of
hell across the three-
year-old face.  Wide
open, the left eye
appears injury-free—
untouched, but
ultimately more
Through this open
eye the child sees
the world that has
closed the other.

Copyright © 2003, 2006, 2014, 2016 by Reggie Marra
All Rights Reserved

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