2000 lbs.

By Brian Turner Brian Turner

                                       Ashur Square, Mosul

It begins simply with a fist, white-knuckled
and tight, glossy with sweat. With two eyes
in a rearview mirror watching for a convoy.
The radio a soundtrack that adrenaline has
pushed into silence, replacing it with a heartbeat,
his thumb trembling over the button.
 
                                            ~
 
A flight of gold, that’s what Sefwan thinks
as he lights a Miami, draws in the smoke
and waits in his taxi at the traffic circle.
He thinks of summer 1974, lifting
pitchforks of grain high in the air,
the slow drift of it like the fall of Shatha’s hair,
and although it was decades ago, he still loves her,
remembers her standing at the canebrake
where the buffalo cooled shoulder-deep in the water,
pleased with the orange cups of flowers he brought her,
and he regrets how so much can go wrong in a life,
how easily the years slip by, light as grain, bright
as the street’s concussion of metal, shrapnel
traveling at the speed of sound to open him up
in blood and shock, a man whose last thoughts
are of love and wreckage, with no one there
to whisper him gone.
 
                                            ~
 
Sgt. Ledouix of the National Guard
speaks but cannot hear the words coming out,
and it’s just as well his eardrums ruptured
because it lends the world a certain calm,
though the traffic circle is filled with people
running in panic, their legs a blur
like horses in a carousel, turning
and turning the way the tires spin
on the Humvee flipped to its side,
the gunner’s hatch he was thrown from
a mystery to him now, a dark hole
in metal the color of sand, and if he could,
he would crawl back inside of it,
and though his fingertips scratch at the asphalt
he hasn’t the strength to move:
shrapnel has torn into his ribcage
and he will bleed to death in ten minutes,
but he finds himself surrounded by a strange
beauty, the shine of light on the broken,
a woman’s hand touching his face, tenderly
the way his wife might, amazed to find
a wedding ring on his crushed hand,
the bright gold sinking in flesh
going to bone.
 
                                            ~
 
Rasheed passes the bridal shop
on a bicycle, with Sefa beside him,
and just before the air ruckles and breaks
he glimpses the sidewalk reflections
in the storefront glass, men and women
walking and talking, or not, an instant
of clarity, just before each of them shatters
under the detonation’s wave,
as if even the idea of them were being
destroyed, stripped of form,
the blast tearing into the manikins
who stood as though husband and wife
a moment before, who cannot touch
one another, who cannot kiss,
who now lie together in glass and debris,
holding one another in their half-armed embrace,
calling this love, if this is all there will ever be.
 
                                            ~
 
The civil affairs officer, Lt. Jackson, stares
at his missing hands, which make
no sense to him, no sense at all, to wave
these absurd stumps held in the air
where just a moment before he’d blown bubbles
out the Humvee window, his left hand holding the bottle,
his right hand dipping the plastic ring in soap,
filling the air behind them with floating spheres
like the oxygen trails of deep ocean divers,
something for the children, something beautiful,
translucent globes with their iridescent skins
drifting on vehicle exhaust and the breeze
that might lift one day over the Zagros mountains,
that kind of hope, small globes which may have
astonished someone on the sidewalk
seven minutes before Lt. Jackson blacks out
from blood loss and shock, with no one there to bandage
the wounds that would carry him home.
 
                                            ~
 
Nearby, an old woman cradles her grandson,
whispering, rocking him on her knees
as though singing him to sleep, her hands
wet with their blood, her black dress
soaked in it as her legs give out
and she buckles with him to the ground.
If you’d asked her forty years earlier
if she could see herself an old woman
begging by the roadside for money, here,
with a bomb exploding at the market
among all these people, she’d have said
To have your heart broken one last time
before dying, to kiss a child given sight
of a life he could never live? It’s impossible,
this isn’t the way we die.
 
                                            ~
 
And the man who triggered the button,
who may have invoked the Prophet’s name,
or not—he is obliterated at the epicenter,
he is everywhere, he is of all things,
his touch is the air taken in, the blast
and wave, the electricity of shock,
his is the sound the heart makes quick
in the panic’s rush, the surge of blood
searching for light and color, that sound
the martyr cries filled with the word
his soul is made of, Inshallah.
 
                                            ~
 
Still hanging in the air over Ashur Square,
the telephone line snapped in two, crackling
a strange incantation the dead hear
as they wander confused amongst one another,
learning each other’s names, trying to comfort
the living in their grief, to console
those who cannot accept such random pain,
speaking habib softly, one to another there
in the rubble and debris, habib
over and over, that it might not be forgotten.

Brian Turner, “2000 lbs.” from Here, Bullet. Copyright © 2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

Source: Here Bullet (Alice James Books, 2005)

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Poet Brian Turner

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Relationships, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

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 Brian  Turner

Biography

Brian Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon and lived abroad in South Korea for a year before serving for seven years in the U.S. Army. He was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. Then in November 2003 he was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. His first book, Here, Bullet, chronicles his time in Iraq.

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SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Death, Sorrow & Grieving, Relationships, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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