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Maurice E. Decaul

Years: 2015,


Maurice Emerson Decaul, a former Marine, is a poet, essayist and playwright whose writing has been featured in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Sierra Magazine, Epiphany, Callaloo, NarrativeThe Common and elsewhere. His poems have been translated into French and Arabic. His theatre pieces have been produced at New York City’s Harlem Stage; Poetic License Festival, New York City; Washington DC’s Atlas INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL;  l’Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris;  the Paris BanlieuesBleues Festival; the Middelhein Jazz Festival in Antwerp; the Avignon Theatre Festival in France; and Détours de Babel, the Grenoble Festival, France. Forthcoming productions will be held at Arizona State University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, the Mary L Welch Theatre at Lycoming College, Pennsylvania, and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. His album, Holding It Down, a collaboration with Vijay Iyer, and was The LA Times Jazz Album of the year in 2013. ACallaloofellow, Maurice is a graduate of Columbia University (BA), and New York University (MFA). He currently is pursuing his MFA in playwriting at Brown University.


In The Meantime


The gods looking down from safety resume their dispute about humans

the interventionists argue for decisive but limited action

fire   plague, while the pusillanimous remind the others of Diomedes


stabbing Aphrodite, Diomedes piercing Ares with his spear

the hubris of man. The apathetic throw up their hands

let man kill man his blood is his blood, they argue what is it to us


if he destroys himself & Zeus meant to speak up

but the debate had moved on to topics of importance

while below him, people marched & fought & declared their lives mattered.


The War Was Young


For Greg Pardlo


By the time I looked over my shoulder, the sun had fallen

flat desert, the tree of life? Or is it

black smoke rising? My birthday

was yesterday & I watched smoke rising

from artillery strikes against insurgents. Dust

floats chest high, I breathe in. Boots kick up dust

quick stepping. My rifle slung cross body

it’s safe here but I tap the rifle’s magazine

tapping it reminds me how to keep safe

When we got here yesterday

its inhabitants became specters. The sound of boots

quickstep through me. Where am I? Am I

still alive? In the background, lights

on in a hut. Listen. I’ve been working myself up

so I’ll say it, in the hut men are being beaten

& they are crying & they are pleading & I don’t

need to understand to know.


Greg, you asked me why can’t you feel?

but I do

& I learned that night to survive

more than two days in Iraq

tune out the crying & carry on


say a prayer for your enemy

in the morning

& in the evening


& the war was only in its infancy then

learning how to kill us in the morning & in the evening

in houses & on street corners, in Humvees

& when we return home the war kills us

one at a time two at a time




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 three feet long.

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 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.