Southeast Missouri State University Press

The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters

Gerardo Mena

Publication: February 2014
Pages: 80

The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters: Poems by decorated Iraqi Freedom veteran Gerardo “Tony” Mena, the first book in a new military-service series. The Military-Service Literature Series is a continuance of the collaboration between Missouri Humanities Council, Southeast Missouri State University Press, and Warriors Arts Alliance that produced the anthologies Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors Volumes 1 and 2.

The poet, Gerardo Mena, is a decorated Iraqi Freedom veteran. He spent six years in Special Operations with the Reconnaissance Marines. He was awarded a Navy Achievement Medal with a V for Valor for multiple acts of bravery while under fire. His work has been published in such journals as Baltimore Review, Ninth Letter, Prairie Schooner Online, Cream City Review, Poetry East, Cider Press Review, and War, Literature and the Arts, among others. His awards include the 2010 War Poetry award, Missouri Humanities Council’s National Veterans Poetry Competition, the 2011 Penumbra Haiku Contest, and inclusion in Meridian’s Best New Poets 2011 anthology. This is his first book.

The Series will release a book per year, alternating between poetry and prose, and will focus on writing by military-service personnel and veterans rather than historical analysis. As Geoff Giglierano, Executive Director of Missouri Humanities Council, puts it, “These are the people who made the history, not just generals and presidents.”

You might read Gerardo Mena’s poetry to find out what war is “really” like. However, you’ll find him describing, again and again, its interior reality, its surreality, full of humans transformed into or by bayonets, leaves, birds, bullets, flowers, rockets, and coffins in a zone where the fireball from a convoy vehicle blasted by an IED mirrors Van Gogh’s Starry Night, where “the tenth man in a patrol/will suddenly blink at you/from the half of his face/ that is now lying/on the ground,” where perhaps the most telling prayer is “Do not let me die/from an incoming mortar round/as I jerk off in the porta-shitter.” Haunting this important book is the image, stated or implied, of the after- combat “thousand yard stare.” Made famous by a World War II painting, it’s very likely relevant to wars from the Pleistocene epoch to the 21st Century. ―William Trowbridge, Poet Laureate of Missouri

“Something dangerous happens when the incomprehensible destruction of war is packed into the small intimate space of poetry. The line itself is a short history of volatility. ‘First the spear and then the fire,’ writes Euripedes, with the unblinking eye of one who has witnessed the strafing arrows of history. In Gerardo ‘Tony’ Mena’s debut collection, the speaker is inseparable from the war–he is the spear, he is the coffin, he is the fire. ‘When I awoke,’ Mena writes, ‘I was Iraq.’ Indeed, these lines are all front lines. Mena takes us to the alleyways of Fallujah, the burning minaret, the confrontation with insurgency and urgency in the deserts. The language here is bald, beautiful and reckless. It is loving and sad. It is the eye-witness account of heroism and suffering we cannot fathom, because this warrior poet has shielded us with his body. But he has given us his heart and his mind in frighteningly present, intimate forms. This is bravery of the highest order.―D.A. Powell

In this strong debut collection, Gerardo Mena explores the many facets of the war experience through poems that are tender and powerful. The complex bonds formed among fellow soldiers are honored in odes to the fallen; the landscapes of both the combat zone and the home front are rendered in exquisite detail. No one who hasn’t lived through combat can truly understand its effects on the human psyche, but Mena’s skill and honesty create a window through which civilian readers can glimpse the horrors and the wonders, the fear and hatred and love that rise up like the smoke from a battlefield. ―Jodee Stanley, Editor, Ninth Letter

Trade paperback, $14.00
ISBN: 978-0-9883103-6-0