Again, David Dotson sketches
shark’s teeth on a 40 mm grenade
with a Sharpie—the quick flicks of his hand
ripple the tendon under his elbow,
wrapped in black ink, a tattoo imprinted
in my memory. I laugh every time
he holds it up, & says that it won’t bite
if you stay out of the water. Despite
all the windows we’ve broken,
the glass factory still rots
on the banks of the Euphrates,
like an amusement park for ghosts
where the arches of abandoned conveyors
snake through the compound.
Only the tourist in me loves Ramadi—
the fresh air gliding off the river
does so little to quell
the stink of a hundred thousand assholes
in a city that refuses to die.
A hurricane wipes out New Orleans,
& we’re too busy spitting Copenhagen
into Gatorade bottles & leaving the syrup-
like juice to ferment in direct sunlight.
& Dotson keeps tripping about that
sucker that got wasted in the alley—said
he swears it’s the same fuck-stick
that greased the up-gunner
with a well-placed 7.62 mm bullet—
snuck it right under the corporal’s
Kevlar helmet. The look in his eyes,
he keeps saying, but I mean,
what else is there to say?
Except convincing you
by the end of this poem
that life might be worth killing for.
Before dark, I’ll flood the latrine
with diesel fuel & watch this putrid cauldron
billow shit-smoke into the atmosphere.
I’m a short-timer, 42 & a wakeup—still
every morning I have such a hard-on
for this living tragedy, even though
it’s the death of me. The replacements
will arrive & one will get shot in the leg,
smearing his blood on the lieutenant—
his face draining of color as his femoral
artery releases him in a red jet.
One will get air-bursted by a rocket
on his second day while walking
to the chow hall. The First Sergeant
assembles a working party of 20 shitbags
like me, who line up to scour
the blast site for any human remains.
Between two rows of Hesco barriers,
we mosey shoulder to shoulder,
kicking over every rock & shuffling
through the infertile dirt. I reach
down to grab what I hope is a fingernail.
& that corporal, his widow remarried;
his mother divorced; & his church
in Ohio held a memorial
where a cake is cut into 36 pieces
& left to stale on a folding table.
This is the shrine that crucifies solace.
Whether it’s the helmet resting on the M-16’s
buttstock or the dog tags that dangle toward
empty combat boots, it’s a monument—
a skyscraper built by dread. If I remain
kneeling, I will always live
in its shadow. If I stand, it will become
my shadow. It will always stand
between myself & the gates of a crypt
like a sentinel, which harvests raw grief
from the endless lanes of reaped cornrows.
Kyle Adamson is the winner of the AWP Intro to Journals Award in poetry, a Pushcart nominee, and a finalist in the Consequence Poetry Prize. His work can be found in Water~Stone Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other journals. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.