I putter along the highway, in my own world,
and squeak! an eighteen-year-old hotshot with his dad’s Camaro
whips in front of me with an inch to spare.
I dare to pull into the left lane and in an instant
an SUV wide as a freighter, higher than my rooftop,
plants itself at my rear bumper
as though I had trespassed on its private turf.
It’s as if they didn’t know the car’s sides
are solid as Origami puffballs,
mostly plastic, a few thin supports,
just enough frame to get the car off the lot.
You’ve got your wheels, and off you go,
weaving and straining for speed,
thinking of Dale and some boss who cursed you,
never the masses of twisted metal,
the strewn and extruded body parts
you’ve seen lying by the side of the road.
High school recruiters know this.
The tender-faced boys of seventeen, barely shaving yet,
Moms still patting their shrugging shoulders
as they leave home with a bag lunch,
seventeen but already bored,
bored to tears with life as it is, the same girls, the same books,
the same horizon as flat as the future,
the same parents, the same nothing-to-do, forever and forever.
The almost-little boys at the recruiting table,
soft inside as Easter chocolate,
eye the M-16 rifles and the Hum-Vees, seeing the future there,
anywhere but here,
forgetting what they’ve heard of ambushes, booby traps,
amputees waiting hours for treatment,
mustard gas, nerve gas, depleted uranium.
You careen down the highway in your gossamer Camaro
and suddenly the day comes, you’re off the plane,
heat smacks you in the face, dust rolls in,
and a weapon’s on your shoulder, your little piece of power.
Boredom and terror, boredom and terror.
One hundred a week wounded in action,
home again with no health coverage, or no home at all.
You sit for hours playing cards
with guys from some other godforsaken town like yours,
loud rock and hip-hop to remind you of who you were.
Long after the uranium exposure, babies are born
anophthalmic, no eyes at all.
Napalm, another WMD, melts human skin in Fallujah.
But everybody run! You’re out on the streets,
kicking down doors with one hard boot.
You aim past women with babes in arms,
grandmas and grandpas cowering in corners,
and back outside through terror-lined streets.
Your buddies holler you back, and it's quiet,
a retreat. Music plays, supper comes.
You have no idea where you are.
This is not Kansas and your best buddy is gone.
Careening through Baghdad, they fold like Jettas.
No one asked; never a frame for this.
You were heading for what? The screaming women? The blood? The mangled babes?
The spitting rage? The broken and endless days?
The tender flesh, once so shiny, fresh as dew,
blindsides into Baghdad, wishing you knew.
In 2010, 468 active duty and reserve troops committed suicide while 462 died in combat, marking the second year in a row that more US soldiers killed themselves than died at war, according to Congressional Quarterly's John Donnelly.