• A Letter: “Life without you has been like drinking bad whiskey by myself”

    July 7, 2017

    Posted in: Hooper's War, Iraq

    Following my book about moral injury, memory, and loss, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, I received a cop of the following unsolicited letter. It’s reprinted here with the author’s permission.

    30 June 2017
    FOB Base Marez (Mozul)

    Dear Mark Strand,

    Forgive me for taking so long to write to you. You died back in November, 2014, and it’s taken me all this time to write. Forgive me.

    You once told me back when I was your student at Johns Hopkins that I should “stop mourning everything all the time” — true, I see loss everywhere, and I tend towards sadness — but it’s also true that I have missed you every day since you have died. I miss talking with you. I miss reading the early drafts of your poems and essays. I miss how easily good work comes from you; even early drafts have certain glamour. I miss watching your mouth read. I miss wanting to hold your hand — strangers at church hold hands; why not us? I miss feeling like your poems were prayers, and that your readers were blessed. I miss how handsome you were; even in death, you looked too good to bury.

    Something else: I miss that, unlike most great poets, you had no compulsion to immortalize yourself. Towards the end of your life, you were not a poet writing poems; instead, you were a poet who had become his poems.

    I miss you, my friend, my mentor. Life without you has been like drinking bad whiskey by myself.

    Let me tell you why I’m writing now: I’ve fallen in love. Really. After four divorces. Who would have thought!

    After a youth of restlessness, recklessness, and utter and total irresponsibility towards my wives and kids, and a middle age filled with disappointments, I fell in love with whom I had imagined and desired, but yet didn’t know. My lover has a true substance beyond imagination and desire.

    My lover was unrecognizable until she happened. She was the long-sought beloved. And she appeared from out of nowhere; she rose from the “Black Sea” of which you have written in one of your most anthologized poems.

    Now, loving her all day long in the simplest of chores in daily life, and spooning with her all night long with one aura around our two bodies, I am free. Free. Free. Free. I am free not from wanting, but free from the person who wanted. I am free from myself alone.

    Mark, today I write to you now on an empty street in an empty city in a faraway country besieged by war. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. Does it matter? There are no children in the streets. There is no music filling the buildings. The buildings are in ruins. The city is devastated. Dusty rumble. Roadblocks everywhere. Snipers everywhere. The last wishes of the dead and dying dissolve in the harsh sunlight on this terrible place. The dead are often without names; they are the nameless. Their toes tagged with numbers. Here, in this city, all the horrors are intended, deliberate, man-made.

    My story here is not so dramatic, but yet I have the life I’ve always wanted. I’m doing the work I was born to do. I’m just your basic MOS 3011 grunt and Fire Team Leader who got discharged, became a national security contractor, who then got assigned to the Expeditionary Targeting Force (ETF), but who is now wanting to be a humanitarian aid worker.

    And I’m in love. Her name is Victoria. She is a Goddess.

    And this is what Victoria taught me: Heaven is not there in the imagination; it is right here, where Hell is, too. Heaven and Hell coexist, and angels and demons cohabitate. Somehow Heaven and Hell both feel the same. Why? Because things matter less than they used to matter. Only love seems to matter now.

    Love and poetry.

    And art of loving and writing poetry.

    Mark, you’ll be happy to know that, finally, I’ve stopped mourning everything all the time. After four divorces, alcohol and other addictions, assorted (and sordid) other self-destructive behaviors, anger management issues, depression, anxiety and panic disorder, etc. — you know my story — I feel reborn, like a baby in his mother’s arms.

    This is what I also know: Soon, in this war-ravaged city, buds will appear on the dead-looking limbs of the trees. The buds will become leaves. Tiny, red-tasseled flowers will appear and bloom. The blossoms will be blood-red, but not blood-red, and it will be a time for magical thinking. The dead will demand it.

    I miss you, maestro. I really miss you. Thank you for being my friend and teacher.


    John Good Iron

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Mitch said...


      Very Steinbeck.


      07/7/17 9:25 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      This guy sounds like a narcissist. If he’s a new person why didn’t he make contact with one of his ex wives to see if they could reconcile? Did he have children? Do they matter. No male I know calls his wife or girlfriend a “goddess”.

      07/7/17 11:18 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “Love Among the Ashes”

      Magical thinking indeed.

      07/7/17 11:56 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Sounds like a guy who attended one of Robert Bly’s male bonding camps. John Good Iron?

      07/7/17 4:43 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Like I said….. VERY Steinbeck.


      07/7/17 5:56 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      I would tell him to get a grip, but Podesta told demented Donald to do that. Not a good idea to tell demented Donald to grip anything.

      07/8/17 11:07 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Thank you Peter for your great educations (plug for books and Peace). Great article from your fellow V.I.P. Associate Ray McGovern today. Educate. Read.

      07/8/17 2:56 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...



      07/8/17 4:35 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      The MIC is a menace to life. We need Jobs…We need “We”…

      07/8/17 4:37 PM | Comment Link

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