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Sean McLain Brown


That summer, I had a student who was obsessed with commas. I handed
her essays back peppered with red marks, a comma splice here and there
and pages and pages of run-ons. She was from Nigeria and survived one
of the worst military regimes. When mortar and small arms fire rang out
in the night, when her brother was beaten and conscripted, when they
forced him to rape her, when they shot her after the rest of the men had
their way, she pretended she was dead, and why, she asked, could she not
continue her sentences with commas, extending them like her thoughts,
like when she lay there for days with her dead parents until she was sure
they had gone, she survived, the massacre of her village, her parents, her
rape, without commas, she knew no other way to say this.



I desire a name that fits everything I do not understand. The mechanics
of this unlovely thing, this unwieldy word of all things unknown, is a
veritable Rube Goldberg of vowels and consonants. To say that I want a
word for what I do not know is to say that I mean to forget what I already
know. I want to speak the name of the first soldier, a boy really, who first
took his life, or the friend who never came back from patrol, the IED took
everything from him that anyone could recognize, and have it pulled from
my memory as one pulls a loose thread from a button on a shirt, and pulling,
watches as the button rolls away under the couch and is forgotten and
instead of sewing a new button, the shirt is relegated to the pile of forgetful
shirts that are deemed useless and set out on the curb to be picked up
by Goodwill.



Sean Mclain Brown is a disabled Gulf War former Marine and a member of the Veteran's Writing Workshop led by renowned author Maxine Hong Kingston. He teaches writing at De Anza College. His poetry and fiction has appeared more than 50 publications including, the San Francisco Chronicle, EM, First Intensity, Fourteen Hills, Indiana Review, LUNA, Sentence, Paragraph, Transfer and others. His work is also featured in two anthologies: An Introduction to the Prose Poem (Firewheel Editions), and Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace (Koa Books).