The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Jeanetta Calhoun Mish’s “What I Learned At The War”


For the American Dead
          But out of that silence rose new sounds more appalling still; a strange
          ventriloquism, of which you could not locate the source, a smothered moan, as
          if a thousand discords were flowing together into a key-note weird, unearthly,
          terrible to hear and bear, yet startling with its nearness . . .
                                 —Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: 20th Maine, Army of the Potomac

Here, on this field, lost voices sing strange ventriloquism.
Ventriloquism: hear estranged lost souls singing, disembodied voices.
Voices ventriloquized: a song here in ravaged trees, forever lost and strange.
Strange voices lost in ventriloquism: here, suddenly, silence sings
a song most strange—are we hearing voices? Ventriloquism utters loss.
A soldier’s lost song—usurped by ventriloquism. Estranged voices haunt us here.
Here in the South, voices forever sing strange.

Here in America, we forever sing strange elegies—
elegies ventriloquized for the estranged and the dead. Americans sing strife, forever. Forever-elegies exported, sung off-key. Ignore sorrows of America’s stranieri
estranged forever in prisons, in graves. American elegies, everywhere, are sung.
We co-opt songs of strangers. Here in our streets forever resound elegies of America. Americans sing fractured elegies—estranged, bereft, forever. Can you hear?
Here—now, forever—we are afflicted—from humanity, estranged.

This selection comes from Jeanetta Calhoun Mish’s collection What I Learned At The War, available now from West End Press. Purchase your copy here!

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish is a scholar, poet, and prose writer; Her most recent books are Oklahomeland: Essays (Lamar University Press, 2015) and a poetry collection,What I Learned at the War (West End Press, March 2016). Mish’s 2009 poetry collection, Work Is Love Made Visible won the Western Heritage Award, the WILLA Award from Women Writing the West, and the Oklahoma Book Award. Mish’s chapbook, Tongue Tied Woman (2002), won the national Edda Poetry Chapbook for Women contest sponsored by Soulspeak Press. Her writings have been recently published or are upcoming in The Fiddleback, About Place Naugatuck River Review, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Halvard-Johnson’s Truck, Concho River Review, Yellow Medicine Review, and Mojave River Review. Jeanetta is editor of award-winning Mongrel Empire Press, and contributing editor for the literary journal Sugar Mule ( and for Oklahoma Today. She is director of and a faculty mentor for the Red Earth Creative Writing MFA Program at Oklahoma City University.

Noh Anothai was a researcher with the Thailand-United States Education Foundation (Fulbright Thailand) between 2011-12, during which he hosted cultural events for Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and College of Dramatic Arts. Winner of Lunch Ticket‘s inaugural Gabo Prize for Translation and Multilingual Texts (2014) and OUTspoken’s poetry prize in 2015, Anothai’s original poems and translations of Thai poetry have appeared both online and in-print, most recently in Ecotone and The Berkeley Poetry Review. A reader for River Styx’s annual poetry contest, Anothai teaches for the online MFA program at Lindenwood University.


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