“For B.E.”

by Walker Benjamin

The desert offers no glory.
There’s no pot of gold at the end of the Gobi, no village of thankful children.
That T.E. Lawrence shit is just another Hollywood fable.
It’s hot out there. You can’t see. Your platoon is laughing
or playing cards, or mocking the fobbits,
and suddenly the sandbox vomits an IED
and you’re picking up the boots and tags from the angels
while the jingle truck’s moveable gamelan hauls 
more CHUs out past last month’s wire.

And I sit in Fort Living Room and fiddle with some goddamn word bank.
Please forgive me. Forgive the bad poetry, the pitiful attempt at elegy.
But don’t forgive this country. He’s dead.
And if there were odds given 15 years ago
on who might swallow the bottle with a vodka chase,
I’d have bet on myself. Never on him.
But you see, I wasn’t there on both fronts…

I imagine there’s two doctors when they hand out the PTSD pills.
One will tell you: just take a few of these
and you’ll return to the gridiron glory and the diamond glory.
That blowjob you got after the state championships
will be the feeling in your mind, even on off days.
Your woman will bring back your daughter.
This little pill will dump the nightmares out of you
like sand from a shoe on the Jersey Shore.
Remarkably you’ll be able to connect with them.
The hippocampus won’t hiccup another image of burned children,
or a field of crunches. Or the look on your buddy’s face
when that death blossom demanded he never walk again.
He’ll never walk again.

But the other doc on the way out whispers: these get well pills,
sometimes they might not work so well. Just so you know,
increase the dose by two Fibonacci sequences and they become final exit pills.
But please, cocktail them with what we gave you for the back you threw out
carrying that corpse out the zone, just to be sure
we keep this rate constant at one a day.
Once a day a young man or woman from this land, who stood up for it,
because they were too stupid to know its wrongs,
or they needed the money for school,
or they were bored and the TV looked so fun.
Or they just plain got tricked into it.

Once a day someone I don’t know is kissing the barrel
with their toe on the trigger.
But I never grew up with them, played ball with them,
had their brother MC the school lip-sync contest,
Their other brother as my Little League battery mate for three seasons,
his father a coach. His father three years back at my gas station,
practically weeping when I asked how he was,
to hear his wife had recently been claimed by cancer,
that he was having a hard time,
that he — gasp — really wasn’t doing so well, holding back the tears
but still sharing with an almost-stranger,
Both because I wasn’t,
and because that’s often the best person to share grief with
The person who is now a stranger.
I respected the hell out of his honesty, his bravery in confiding.
Good god, now his son?

B_____, you should be a day trader, a real estate agent, a Pop Warner coach.
Any post-frathouse occupation I’ll never have and always despise,
you should have that.
You should be just another lukewarm asshole I grew up with.
A non-subject for poetry.
Laying up in the crib with the trophy wife and litter
In the easy chair with the big cigar.

I’ll spare the mawkish bullshit
about how we chaired you through the marketplace.
How death clenches another blue-eyed boy in her teeth.
I’ll even spare the lie that you somehow died “from the war.”
Because there is no War. There is an Operation.
And this difference is how evil men keep lining their pockets.
War, you might recall, is kind. War must be fought or else we die.
War must be waged or our grandchildren speak German.
War is where young men of promise become heroes.
Or are we ready, finally, to put down those pretty illusions?
Because right now I’m staring at whitespace forty gigabytes deep,
choked with anger, and all I can say is it sure as hell shouldn’t be
something they take their own lives to avoid facing
or to silence its memory.

Categories: Poetry