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Journal, Day Four
12 March 2004 . . .
The sun rose peach and to the chants of the Qur’an, voiced through speakers in the minarets off in the distance. We were set up in pre-dug tank positions from the Iraqi army of old, there in the ruins of Nineveh. The guard was a little cold, and damp, but not bad. I sat my shift with Specialist Bosch and we watched a small village in front of us come to life with the morning. . . .
. . . Some silent men walked quietly to work, aware of us. An old woman—a large woman with a stick—guided 17 head of cattle across a road 50 meters to our front. Little children played or carried out trash and dumped it in small piles maybe 30 meters in front of our position.
Soon, soccer games started in the field which was located directly in the center of our perimeter. There must’ve easily been 100 children of various ages playing, standing around, saying “Hello. Hello, Mista. How are you?”
I heard an explosion off to the South, maybe a mile away. I reported it. Watched kids play. Heard bursts of gunfire, single-shot and automatic, for a fair duration of time, to the South again and maybe 1500 meters away. Reported it. Again, watched the children play.
. . . During this period of time, we often set up observation posts—temporary places where we could overwatch parts of the city of Mosul—in unoccupied homes. We were told that many of the unfinished homes in Mosul had been owned by those who fled to neighboring countries prior to the outbreak of the war. At one such place, I remember watching an old woman at daybreak and beyond, trying to learn what daily life means for some in Iraq. . . .
Into the Elephant Grass
(On the outskirts of Mosul)
She scrubs clothes by hand in gasoline,
in a metal bucket just outside the tent.
At dawn, she hangs the laundry,
sheep eat from opened bags of trash,
mangy dogs yawn and stretch their backs
and ducks wade in a rivulet
of green and brackish water.
By noon, the world is reduced to heat.
The flatbeds have sold their iceblocks
and streets have turned to dust.
What is there to do but carve fruit
with sharpened knives, holding tears back
when her daughter traces the branding ink
tattooed on her cheek, line by line.
When the moon rises over Mosul
and the dogs have laid their muzzles down
to sleep, she follows her own shadow
into the elephant grass, into that thin-bladed
wall of green swaying fifteen feet high,
moving until her feet reach the water’s edge,
where she undresses, loosening her hejab
and laying it down, easing her body
out into the dark water, cooling her
better than she ever imagined it would.
17 March 2004 . . .
Possible raid planned for tonight. We did a rifle range in the morning after 7 hours of sleep; heaven, that.
At the range, there were purple larkspur, yellow buttercups, tiny red-leaved flowers with black hearts. The ground is drying up and the flowers are blooming. Spring.
Charlie Company had an IED (improvised explosive device) go off last night, though no one was injured. . . .
This poem came directly from that moment of witnessing the blossoming of spring, even in wartime. . . . The title means: Beautiful
Cowbirds rest in the groves of date palms,
whole flocks of them, white as flowers
blossoming into wings when the wind rises up.
Thistleweed bursts open in purple
while honeybees drone and hover
over the yellowing, early-summer field.
They say to produce one pound of honey,
bees must travel from flower to hive
at least twelve thousand times.
Such patience, waiting for this storm
to be carried over the far mountains,
when the earth darkens and the sky lowers
and cowbirds shield themselves under a wing,
the nectar swaying heavy within the closed flower,
the hive humming its prayer under the rain’s falling hush.