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This poem was submitted for the "Poetry for the Mind's Joy" project and is reproduced here with permission from the author. All rights reserved. Poetry for the Mind's Joy is Poet Laureate Kay Ryan's project that includes a community college poetry contest administered by the Community College Humanities Association and a lively videoconference.

Never have I been here before; dreams aren’t real
within Time and Space, where all they think they know
of me from a time earlier is just an illusion
like my memories of this place.
Surely, I must be dreaming.
I’m a drifter, here, inside it is empty,
there’s a hollow where once laid desire —
where once laid at peace all that makes us alive.
Swallowed, it has since been consumed
by the dust of the desert, the cries of the Fallen,
friendly and foe in their tombs —
and I wonder, is this real?
Surrounded by kinfolk, the people here smile,
they sing, they sleep, they cry,
and they walk through the city streets, they’re all fearless,
naked, no armor, no sense of worry, but I —
I hear the echoes of ghosts and a silence,
which is eerily anything but; I can’t breathe
and as my adrenaline pumps to prepare
for battle, I think to myself, this can’t be real.
Stilettos and cocktail dresses, they gather
for gossip in the aft of my closet — it’s been
years since I’ve had the pleasure of girl-talk,
but the whispers, the voices of ghosts wait there, too.
In a trunk in the back shipped home from Iraq
rest my old blouse, and my trousers, and boots,
still bearing the scent and fine dust of the sand,
I hear them – I must be dreaming.
Night after night, here, I search for my post
to relieve myself from this duty.
Am not I supposed to be home?
The numbness has long taken over, I’m tired, lost,
but I cannot give up — for Them, for us — I won’t.
When hope seems soon to dissipate, whispers
of the Fallen come to assure me
that I’ll know where I am, that I’m Home, and I’ll feel it —
I hope, I will, I must —
when this fog that lingers after war lifts
and I can see through the desert dust.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Minneapolis, MN
Faculty Contact: Morgan Grayce Willow, English Division