Note from the Author

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.


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

was home.”

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