People ask me what my new book, AIRMAIL: A Story of War in Poems, is about. Here is a note from the first pages of the book. It is available on Amazon.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
When I was in the fourth grade, we had a map of Vietnam on our
kitchen wall. When my mother received an airmail letter, she
would walk to the map and move one of the stickpins to a new
location to see if one of her brothers was in harm’s way in some
new hot spot or battle. I spent a lot of time worrying about that
map. I had five uncles in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
Looking back, I guess it is a bit unusual for a girl of nine or ten
to write letters to her uncles in Vietnam, in Thailand, in Cambodia.
Even then, I knew that words could make one feel better. I
wrote about ice-skating at the park on a cold Iowa Saturday. I
wrote about school, basketball games, and the books I was reading.
My letters were written in wide, awkward printing on little
girl stationary. My uncles wrote back and thanked me for
Several years ago, one of those uncles wrote a line at the bottom
of his Christmas card. It said, “Someday I want to sit down and
tell you what it was like to be a young man going off to war.” I
taped that card over my desk and began to imagine their voices.
Over the next years, I read hundreds of letters that my mother
and my grandfather had saved from the boys, spanning many
years. With the help of a Jerome Foundation Grant and a Loft
McKnight grant, I visited several of the men in Mississippi,
Alaska, and South Dakota and interviewed them about their
experiences. I recalled stories from my childhood. They filled in
the details. Some preferred not to talk about it; others felt like it
had released a great burden.
This manuscript is the result of those letters and those stories. It
is a book about going off to war, a book about coming back
home, and a book about those who are left behind. I took a few
liberties with the facts simply because I do not know all there is
to know, but I tried to retain the voices I have heard my whole
life, the voices that ring true on parchment paper sent in airmail
letters from all over the world.
I dedicate this book to those voices, to my family, and every
voice calling out at times of war: “I miss you. I love you. I wish I