Maurice Decaul

Photo illustration courtesy of Erin Trieb/The Homecoming Project

Photo illustration courtesy of Erin Trieb/The Homecoming Project

Quotidian

The baby is a creature of habit, every morning a slice
of toast a smear of peanut butter, a little extra
on her spoon. White table grapes when in season,
strawberries quartered, when in season
my refrain is always: take small bites Elaine.
On my roof seagulls & pigeons wait to gorge on her scraps
even when it is raining, they come. She has outgrown
her rain boots again so I remind her to not
splash in puddles. My umbrella is more than three feet long
& is a burden I'd rather not have to carry.
We walk to the subway; I hold her hand, my umbrella
cradled & I love walking point on patrols
knowing I might die with each step. But my rifle
is god & it keeps me. “We are shepherd dogs
protecting the flock, never forget
Marines, we are part wolf & this is why we’re so good
at killing them.” My umbrella is a burden
each time Elaine is on patrol with me; she tugs
on my hand wanting to be carried. I can’t Lainey, 
you’re too heavy & daddy’s hands are already very full. Every morning
she asks for a penny to make a wish at the fountain;
I see her lips moving, the penny sinking, her dewy curls. 

Context: 

The poem Quotidian began after a conversation with my professor. I was interested in learning how to write poems which glance war rather than offer a full gaze. He suggested the lyric narrative poem and that I write about the mundane. The next day it rained and as I took my daughter to school, the walk quickly felt like a patrol and it was as if I was temporally displaced and I was bothered tremendously. On the train back to Brooklyn, I could not help but think about the displacement and slowly a poem began forming “The Baby is a creature of habit…”

The first six years after the war I tried to forget the war and move on with my life. Job to job, and though I was never unemployed I also never felt settled.  In the winter of 2009, I found out about NYU’s Veterans Writing Program. The program focused mostly on poetry. I was writing 3-5 poems per day back then because that’s what I needed to do to process the war and now writing poetry gives me clarity of thought and daily purpose.

Photo illustration courtesy of Erin Trieb/The Homecoming Project

Photo illustration courtesy of Erin Trieb/The Homecoming Project

Er Tijal
For Ahmed

The camel’s throat was cut its meat tasting of beef liver its hump a repository of
snow-white-fat. Bedouins will sleep within the carcasses
of dead camels. When I last saw a camel the color of camel hair it contracted
its lips. Blood washes a cobblestone courtyard in Baghdad before
the slaughtering. My Iraqi friends, musicians, the poet, my Iraqi friends sing
in moonlight in Paris sing to Allah to let words fall from the sky we listened
for God watched as day shifts grey to black rain we covered ourselves with poetry

held cups of chai & coffee. I’ve heard it said poetry alone can be challenge
to the Holy Quran in beauty. Rain camel’s blood from Baghdad rain
falls on Avignon blood shower “they’ll kill him you know, for singing to Allah.”
Da’ash(i), murdering Da’ash “If memory is to be described on a serious level
it must be described in relation to death.”(ii) Paris, July, the Seine: “Hollow
eyed. You don’t look how I remember you. They’ll kill him, for singing to Allah.”

On a plane to New York the stewardess: " Monsieur, bonsoir. Attacher
votre ceinture s'il vous plait. Ils vont le tuer monsieur, pour chanter à Dieu."
At a coffee shop on Broadway the server: “Your bagel sir
your change. Your poet will be killed in Baghdad, because he still sings to Allah.”
The poet sang this song to me in Paris: If only war had a mother’s heart
it wouldn’t have been war/it would’ve been comfort & peace
(iii)
I sing it now for you beloved reader.

i  ISIL or ISIS as they’re commonly called
ii  Barthes, from the introduction to Camera Lucida, xi. The word memory is substituted in place of photography
iii  Ahmed Abdel Hussein from Sleep Song Er Tijal. An Er Tijal is an improvised poem

Context: Er Tijal is a form of improvised Arabic poetry I learned while working on a collaborative project called Sleep SongSleep Song is a song and poetry cycle about the lived experiences of Iraqis and Americans during the war in Iraq. The poem is a meditation on a conversation had between myself and another band member about the risk taken by our Iraqi counterpart so we could make music. I was emotionally destroyed at the thought of harm potentially coming to him because they had chosen to write poems and songs with us and the phrase “they might kill him” haunted me and still does. The poem is a lament in some ways while also being an expression of my appreciation and love for Ahmed.

The first six years after the war I tried to forget the war and move on with my life. Job to job, and though I was never unemployed I also never felt settled.  In the winter of 2009, while waiting for the post 9/11 GI Bill to go into effect, I found out about NYU’s Veterans Writing Program from a newsletter and decided to look into it to both pass time and to also prepare myself for the rigors of my undergraduate program. The program focused mostly on poetry and I embraced being exposed to the writings of Yusef Komunyakaa. In his writings I found clarity of purpose, which is what I lacked. I was writing 3-5 poems per day back then because that’s what I needed to do to process the war and now writing poetry gives me clarity of thought and daily purpose.

Maurice Decaul

Maurice Decaul

Age: 34 // Occupation: Writer, Poet, Graduate Student

MAURICE EMERSON DECAUL, a former Sergeant in the Marines, is a poet, essayist, and playwright, whose work has been featured in the New York Times and The Daily Beast among others. He is a graduate of Columbia University and is currently working towards his MFA at New York University. Decaul is a contributor to 1in20's partner, The Homecoming Project, a public service campaign using visual journalism and media to raise awareness of veteran issues related to war and trauma. 

Watch Maurice read one of his poems entitled Shush