War Rug

War Rug
Francesco Levato
Enhanced PDF, 77 pages
Plastique Press
September 2009

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“Francesco Levato’s powerful documentary, War Rug—like Eliot Weinberger’s What I heard about Iraq before it—detains the language of the perpetrators of global military aggression and redeploys it to indict them. From J.C. Penny catalog copy to counterintelligence manuals and autopsy reports, War Rug is a fierce yet unfortunate reminder of the absolute horrors of our age.” —Mark Nowak, author of Coal Mountain Elementary

Description: War Rug is a work of documentary poetics in the form of a book length poem. Multiple interwoven narratives explore life within zones of conflict as viewed through the lens of current warfare. The narratives range from passages inspired by journal entries, firsthand accounts, and news reports to poetic constructs collaged from military doctrine, Freedom of Information Act released government documents (like CIA interrogation manuals, and detainee autopsy reports), and numerous other sources.

This enhanced eBook contains the author’s notebook with hyperlinks to access additional content like books, web sites, audio, and video that inspired and informed the author’s creative process. It is distributed in Portable Document Format (PDF) and is viewable and printable on virtually any platform – Mac OS, Microsoft® Windows®, UNIX®, and many mobile platforms, including the Apple iPhone.

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About the author: Poet, translator, and new media artist Francesco Levato is the executive director of the Poetry Center of Chicago. He is the author of three books of poetry: Elegy for Dead Languages; War Rug, a book length documentary poem; and Marginal State. His translations of the works of Italian poets, Tiziano Fratus, Creaturing, and Fabiano Alborghetti, The Opposite Shore, are forthcoming from Marick Press in the spring and fall of 2010. His work has been published internationally in journals and anthologies, both in print and online, including The Los Angeles Review, Drunken Boat, The Progressive, XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, Versal, and many others. His poetry-based video artwork has been exhibited in galleries and featured at film festivals in Berlin, Chicago, Italy, New York, and elsewhere. For more information please visit www.francescolevato.com.




from War Rug

Flash                        a body reduced to beads of glass
fused in sand at the blast point’s edge.


the lace of an exposed cheek
over tooth and jaw;                        
                                                impossibly white.

Pause                        the space between light
and the rush of sound that crushes breath
from Kevlar and rib;                         
                                                a moment of clarity

            before the market erupts, before
            the Humvee pitches, then drops to its side.


a thickening of scar tissue, the absence
of expression, of an eardrum,
                                                            of an iris.


[ Definitions

            Enucleation: Complete surgical removal of the eyeball.

            Evisceration: Surgical removal of the contents of the eyeball
            with retention of the sclera or cornea and sclera.

            Exenteration: Surgical removal of all the eyeball contents
            which may include the removal of the eyelids.

            Ocular Prosthesis: A plastic or glass fabricated eye
            that replaces volume of the enucleated eye socket. ]


It begins with a photograph and a rug; that so much can be woven into both, one in dyed wool, the other scar tissue against the undisturbed surface of her hand. It’s in her eyes. I know it’s cliché but look, there is something there—unsaid. Resignation, resolve, or just “God damn it, we’ve planned this since high school, you will not take this away from me too.” She is in white, he a dress uniform, three-quarter view. The eye facing the camera is glass—impenetrable.

The rug is tribal, meant for prayer. It is one of the few things I kept. They say the weaving of bombs into its borders, machine guns and tanks began during the Russian occupation; now the images are of planes en route, buildings on fire, the flag—American.


How do you move 1,000 pounds of concrete,
separate bodies from debris,
                                                twisted as steel bar
at the exposed edge of a wound;

            in the expanse of aftermath, broken pieces
a uniform shade of red,
            how do you know your own;

how do you reconcile

the hand held is no longer attached, phantom pain
is the body missing limb, not the reverse;

            that you still wake in your clothing
between adrenaline and exhaustion,

            that the year begins as it ended, will end
as it began?


The T-shirt reads Kill ‘em all. Let God sort ‘em out; skull on black cotton, 3XL. They say 20,000 to 100,000 were killed, the exact number in dispute. What makes this a crusade, what number a massacre? In 1209 AD crusaders asked how to tell Catholics from heretics—the response, from the Latin, Kill them all. God—will know his own.


            Relatives of the victims with corpses
            outside Baghdad’s al-Kindi hospital. ]


[ Emergency Condition Responses

            Code Green: cut hand, scrape, broken arm, nausea,
            and headache.

            Code Yellow: decreased level of consciousness,
            chest pain, unconsciousness for unknown reason,
            loss of feeling/motor skills in an extremity.

            Code Red: penetrating trauma to the torso, severe
            loss of blood, severe head injury, and chest pain
            followed by unconsciousness.

            Code Blue: no breathing/no heartbeat.
            Code Black: Rigor mortis, Post mortem lividity,
            decapitation, decomposition, etc. ]


Black                        the ash from a burning car

            the color of lung tissue, of sutures,
dried blood where glass

                        made ribbons of skin;

it is what deepens over ribcage,
tells of fracture, of the grind

                        of bone against bone;

it is a body wrapped in cellophane,
packed in ice, the bag

                        in which it is zippered,

the color of digging to the height of a man,
of clawing one’s face, that of soil
                                    held tightly in hand.



            used in rifles and machine guns against personnel
and light armored or unarmored targets;

a hollow cinder block, both sides of a car body,

            internal walls, partitions, plaster, floors, ceilings,
office furniture, home appliances,

                                    and bedding can be easily penetrated. ]


Bedding. Penetrated. The Bushmaster Chain Gun™ meets the warfighter’s needs. The brochure tells that it is more flexible, reliable than others; among its attributes—scaleable lethality.

Again black; the background of a magazine ad, glossy stock. It reads Over 120 models with one thing in common... inspired by the human hand. The image is of fingers curled around nothing, suggesting the grip of a gun. Is it the gloss, the implied wetness that is allure? Or the fingers on the verge of tightening—the spasm that would follow.


Ten paces from this doorway
a hollow of stone
                                    not so much shelter

as a wall against which
to flatten my back
                                    continue to count

a breath of a pause, six round burst
            two second hold, one
single crack

            and twenty more paces

                        from this wall to his body,
his body to doorway, my back
to that wall.


[ Definitions

            Penetration: The tissue through which the projectile passes,
            and which it disrupts or destroys.

            Permanent Cavity: The volume of space once occupied by tissue
            that has been destroyed by the passage of the projectile.

            Fragmentation: Projectile pieces or secondary fragments of bone
            which are impelled outward from the permanent cavity
            and may sever muscle tissues, blood vessels, etc. ]


– First published in XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics
   Forthcoming in LUDWIG (translated into the Italian)