A Battlefield in Afghanistan

What shivers in the night

is not the soldier in fatigues; it is the tree line.

Though her rifle has never failed her,

scores of men might

laugh her off the side of the mountain. She stands

on watch; her thoughts are pieces of ice

that cannot thaw. Back home

the night does not blacken this much.

The trees dissolve and everything takes on a dream-sheen.

She feels her father’s stiff finger poking her shoulder,

clutches her rifle to her chest. Her heartbeat bursts

in her ears, drowning out all other sounds.

Something has left a bad taste

in her mouth. Her eyes fill with tears, but she will not

let a single drop escape. A scream is stifled. She takes aim,

fires.

The round sings far into the night, hitting nothing,

not even the trees. The mountain path winds around a bend

she cannot see past. Her pink shift dress,

the summers she went to her Grandma’s farm,

laughter and hay bales. This is what swims into her mind

just before she realizes

she is lying in a shallow ditch on the side of the road.

Her next thought is that she doesn’t

want to be part of the body count. In the movies, the hero never dies.

She’s got to live to see her brother in Barstow,

hear his smoke-battered voice,

feel his rough carpenter’s hands, see his pained smile.

Thoughts of her mother’s recipe book, its dingy pages

pasted together by confectioner’s sugar.

What is that taste in her mouth?

Why is it so sweet?

Suddenly

a pain is searing. The mountain gnashes its teeth, cutting

them baby-like on her trembling body.

What is that ringing in her ears?

The stars trail across the sky

like maggots at the bottom of a trashcan.

What is that taste in her mouth? Ash?

Inside her an emptiness opens like a bombed out village.

She imagines herself in purdah,

her face trembling behind a burkah. She would put on a veil

if she had to, but there’d be nothing behind it for the poppy farmers

to dream about. Instead she wears this uniform.

Why can’t she move her legs?

She finally remembers the explosion. That’s why this is all wrong:

There’s no sound, not even wind tracing the canyon walls

or mortar fire in the distance. She burns

in the dead of night, the ash filtering down through the sky

like slow motion snow.

She finally hears what her brother hears:

nothing.

The weight of the air is too much. She will finally see

her father on the other side.

Open your arms, she thinks.

I could have been a wife, a mother, but this war has removed everything

I could have been and replaced it

with stillness.

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3 Responses to “A Battlefield in Afghanistan”

  1. Wow! Beautiful and sad. What more can I say?

  2. Mort the Sport Says:

    Hey, thanks. I hope you don’t mind the inclusion of a poem. I figured that since it dealt with foreign policy (at least obliquely) it fit into the blog’s focus.

  3. No problem. Lots of publications (e.g. The Nation) have poems that have nothing to do with politics. It may not be my bag, but diversity equals stability.

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