Elijah Imlay







Both Sides


In my reconstituted mashed potatoes

I found a dead fly.

Which side of the ocean is it from?


If I chew too long on a stick of gum,

trade cigarettes for watermelon,

suck on a rind

when the sweetness is gone,

groom a couple of mangy dogs,

or listen to a Joni Mitchell tape

while I pray in a boarded-up chapel

for both sides now,


it’s because my sweat has made

a covenant with this red dust,

turning it into clay.

If rain falls on me or I shower,

the memory-color

embedded in my pores

won’t wash out.  I am grafted

to the skin of this land

and its blood.


A year ago, while I low-crawled

through sand at Fort Dix, my captain

caught me smiling and threatened

for the second time

to shoot me in the back

if we met in Nam. It was

the final letter from Suzette

that brought the smile, the longing

I felt in her words,


wild crazy birds

traveling in high diagonals

my partner is gone and I do not know

how to dance alone.


Now, War Dog is panting.

Our breathing circulates

through every horizon I’ve seen

from New York to Quang Tri.

Yesterday was limitless blue.

Today, restless clouds.

Homesick, I tend wounds

and get down with the dog.




Bird Grieves for the Man They Killed


We wore the steel bracelets

of Montagnards—money

for that mountain people,

good fortune for us.  I held

my broken glasses together

with safety pins.  I wrote

the 23rd psalm on my helmet’s

elastic band.  John Jim,

our ammo bearer, gave us

each a Navajo necklace

of turquoise and onyx

with a single white feather

strung by his wife.  I took out

earphones every night

and listened to George Harrison

sing My Sweet Lord.  If only

there were no picture of wife

or girlfriend found

in the billfold of a Vietnamese

we killed.  Easy to say

it wasn’t me who shot him,

but I still see his eyes

that never close and should

accuse me, yet don’t.

They’re looking at her photo.







Don’t shush me with your eyes

when I sing to the dead.


Why not speak of these things?

Here there is no horizon


except what we slash

from triple canopy—


why hopeful mornings

can seem impossible—


yet I feel this yearning,

and I can’t stop half-way


to find the truth

along this trail of snakes.



Don’t shush me with your eyes

when I sing to the dead.


Carry me

to a nameless white cloud.


Carry us,

the living and the dead,


away from a trail

where there is no mercy.


Carry me

away from where I forget


to listen tenderly

to the parting of leaves.



Don’t shush me with your eyes

when I sing to the dead


in the orange-dusted haze

of the waning moon.


From the warm stone

where I sit


it’s too dark

to see the blue in your iris.


There’s lunar shrapnel in my hip.

Crazy to think it,


I laugh and cry.

I laugh and cry.













“My focus, individually and collectively, is to bring out the best in others, that they may fulfill their potential, helping each seeker of life’s purpose to be sought by that purpose.” – Elijah Imlay


Elijah Imlay’s first book of poems, Monsoon Blues, was published in 2011. He has conducted writing workshops for veterans of war through Poets & Writers, Inc. and PEN Center USA. He is the recipient of three Artist Fellowship Awards from the City of Ventura, California, has won honorable mentions for the 2006 Ruskin Art Club/Red Hen Press Award, the 2004 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize, and the 2002 Ann Stanford Poetry Prize. As a social worker, he has provided psychotherapy and other mental health services in a variety of settings. He gives professional workshops on the treatment of anxiety and panic using traditional breathing methods.  Imlay teaches web courses on meditation for the Institute of Applied Meditation and guides individual and group retreats.  He lives in Ventura, California.



Book Blurbs


The gutsy satire in Elijah Imlay’s Monsoon Blues is balanced by his experience of war.  These plainly spoken moments chronicle deep feelings and astute observations shaped by a vertical music that captures the speed of dangerous encounters.  Imlay’s one-man ensemble knows how to gage the blues, how to get close to the bone. – Yusef Komunyakaa


The poet goes to war in Vietnam as a clarinetist in the Army band, and returns from hell to tell about it. It is vital that we read and hear Elijah Imlay — for our sense of history, for the truth of war, and for the “solace in stories.”— Maxine Hong Kingston

Articles similaires