Staring up into the tank's belly lit
by a bare bulb hanging down off
the exhaust, a mechanic's hands are up
inside the dark metallic innards doing something
that looks personal, private. This tank is nothing
like the ones the Americans deploy.
Those have uranium piercing shells that could melt
right through this tank's armor and set off
the ammo box: nothing can withstand the American tanks.
The barrel's called a cannon. The machine guns they call
deterrents. The tank is old, small, about the size
of a horse and cart. The armor plate shines green
under the streetlight. The sprockets, almost rusted out.
Somebody forgot to grease the nipples. The timing belt is nicked
and worn. The spare parts from France don't fit. This wire
crossed with this wire makes a catastrophic fire.
Be careful how you route it. .20 caliber ammo
goes in the hatch behind the armor plate.
The mechanic on his back in the dirt,
cursing in Arabic, sounds like he's cursing
in a good-natured way: who was the fucking moron
who did the maintenance on this thing?
This tank, this tank, he should push it off
a cliff into the sea so that it could bob for
half an hour before sinking under the Pigeon Rocks
where all the lovers gather in the shadows
near that little bar, lit by a generator, that serves arak
and warm beer to soldiers hanging out on the Corniche:
mainly conscripts from down south, whose orange groves
rot because nobody can pick the oranges: try to pick
an orange and a cluster bomb lodged in leaves
comes tumbling into your basket. What weight oil
did this cocksucker use, anyway? And this engine,
it's gonna blow. Beat up tanks and sandbags,
that's all this army is, old sparkplugs that get fouled
so that you have to file the gaps over and over.
He stares up in that live, minute, completely
concentrated way of scrutinizing something
or someone you thought you understood:
the tank's underbody completely covers his body
so they look like they're embracing when he reaches up
inside it, his needle nose pliers crimping, twisting,
pulling down hard. There, you see that, it's all corroded.
The cannon jutting out looks both threatening
and vulnerable as if the tank's firepower
were dependent on that wire. He runs two fingers
up and down it, then feels where rust,
mixed into an oily paste, shines like bloody flux
that he gently dips his finger in, sniffs and tastes.
Clanging back his tapping on the armor plate,
as he listens to her talking on his back in the dirt, screwing in
the spare parts, the tank says what tanks always say,
Fix me, oil me, grease me, make it fit,
confirming what he knows about the French.