Field Manual: Light Duty
Think not of battles, but rather after,
when the tremor in your right leg
becomes a shake you cannot stop, when the burned man’s
tendoned cheeks are locked into a scream of pain that,
before you sank the bullet in his brain to end it,
had been quite loud. Think of how he still seems to scream.
Think of not caring. Call this “relief.”
Think of heat waves rising from the dust.
Think of your day of rest, how the sergeant lays
the .22 into your palm and says the dogs
outside the wire have become a threat
to good order and discipline:
some boys have taken them as pets, they spread
disease, they bit a colonel preening for a TV crew.
Think of afternoons in T-shirt and shorts,
the unending sun, the bite of sweat in your eyes.
Think of missing so often it becomes absurd.
Think quick pop, yelp, then puckered fur.
Think skinny ribs. Think smell.
Think almost reaching grief but
not quite getting there.
Here is where appreciation starts: the Iraqi boy
in a dusty velour tracksuit almost getting shot.
When I say boy, I mean it. When I say almost
getting shot, I mean exactly that. For bringing
unexploded mortar shells right up to us
takes a special kind of courage I don’t have.
A dollar for each one, I’m told,
on orders from brigade HQ
to let the local children do the dirty work.
When I say I’d say, Fuck that, let the bastards find them
with the heels of their boots, who cares if I mean us
as bastards and who cares if heels of boots means things
that once were and now are not, the way grass once was green
and now is not, the way the muezzin call once was
five times a day and now is not.
And when I say heel of boot, I hope you’ll appreciate
that I really mean the gone foot, any one of us
timbered and inert, and when I say green,
I mean like fucking Nebraska, wagon wheels on the prairie
and other things that can’t be appreciated
until you’re far away and they come up
as points of reference.
I don’t know what Nebraska looks like.
I’ve never been. When I say Nebraska,
I mean the idea of it, the way an ex-girlfriend of mine
once talked about the idea of a gun. But guns are not ideas.
They are not things to which comparisons are made. They are
one weight in my hand when the little boy crests the green hill
and the possibility of shooting him or not extends out from me
like the spokes of a wheel. The hills are not green anymore,
and in my mind they never were, though when I say they were,
I’m talking about reality. I appreciate that too,
the hills were green,
someone else has paid him
for his scavenging, one less
exploding thing beneath our feet.
I appreciate the fact
that for at least one day I don’t have to decide
between dying and shooting a little boy.