UGLY IN BLACK
As Earth returns to chaos, her women brace to mourn,
excavate their buried faith, tap reservoirs of grace, to mourn.
Soldiers steady M-16s, search stillborn eyes for welcome
or signs of commonality. Ferreting no trace, they mourn.
Few are safe, where passions swell like gangrened limbs
you cannot amputate. Sever one, another takes its place,
and you mourn.
Freefall into martyrdom, a bronze-skinned youth slips into the
crowd, pulls the pin. He and destiny embrace, together mourn.
Grenades are colorblind. A woman falls, spilling ebony hair
beside the blond in camouflage. Death’s doorman gives chase. All
Even hell capitulates to sudden downpour. Cloudburst sweeps across
the hardpan, cracks its bloodstained carapace. Hear God mourn.
Up through scattered motes, a daughter reaches for an album. She
climbs into a rocking chair to search for Daddy’s face, and mourn.
Downstairs, a widow splinters on the bed, drops her head into his
silhouette, etched in linen on the pillowcase, to mourn.
Alone, the world is ugly in black. When final night descends
to blanket memory, drops its shroud of tattered lace, who will
POETS WRITE ELOQUENTLY
About war, creating vivid images
of severed limbs, crusting body fluids
and restless final sleep, using nothing
more than a few well-crafted words.
Easy enough to jab philosophically
from the comfort of a warm winter
hearth or an air-conditioned summer.
But what can a sequestered writer know
of frontline realities—blistering
marches under relentless sand-choked
skies, where you’d better drink
your weight in water every day or die
from dehydration? Flipside—teeth-
cracking nights, too frigid for action,
bored out of your mind as you try
to stay warm in front of a makeshift fire.
How can any distant observer know
of traversing rock-rutted trails,
hyperaware that your camouflage comes
with a built-in bull’s-eye; or of sleeping
with one ear listening for incoming
peril; or of the way fear clogs your
pores every time you climb inside
a Humvee and head out for a drive?
You can see these things in movies.
But you can’t understand the way
they gnaw your heart and corrode
your mind, unless you’ve been a soldier
outside the wire in a country where
no one native is really your friend,
and anyone might be your enemy.
You don’t know till you’re ducking
bullets. The only person you dare rely
on is the buddy who looks a lot like
you—too young for this, leaking bravado,
and wearing the same uniform.
Even people who love soldiers—
people like me—can only know these
things tangentially, and not so much
because of what our beloveds tell us
as what they’ll never be able to.
OF COURSE, IF YOU ASK
Me about falling in love
with a guy in the military,
I’d tell you to about-face
and double-time toward
a decent, sensible civilian.
Someone with a fat bank
account and solid future,
built on dreams entirely
his own. I’d advise you
to detour widely around
any man who prefers fatigues
to a well-worn pair of jeans;
whose romantic getaways
are defined by three-day
leaves; who, at age twenty-
six has drunk more liquor
than most people manage
in a lifetime. He and his
fellow grunts would claim
it’s just for fun. A way to let
their hair down, if they had
much hair to speak of. But
those they leave behind,
devoted shadows, understand
that each booze-soaked
night is a short-lived
retrieve from uncertain
yesterdays. Service. Sacrifice.
The problem with that being,
everyone attached to those
soldiers must sacrifice, too.
So, as some Afghani warlord
might say, put that in your
pipe and smoke it. Okay, that
was actually my grandpa’s saying.
But it works, and what I mean
is, think long and hard before
offering your heart to someone
who can only accept it part-time.