by Matthew C. Armstrong


Soviet cement,
Yankee tenants,
Belches of Euphrates

Pass SEALs on the eastern shore

Contractors in ramshackle camps to the west.
An ex-swat cop in a tea-cloth told me not to swim
Unless I wanted cancer like the Hadithans,
As if to confirm the rumors
of Chemical Ali’s hidden stash—

The secret flow.
Every paper boy knows
The Iraqi word for bullshit
(mutar saif)
Translates to summer rain.

The myths of this war swarm my mind like sand flies.
Every soldier wanted to have his hushed moment with the paper boy,
Tell about his Cheyenne brother now fighting in Custer’s cavalry,
The old friend torn to shreds in the mess hall mess,
The augmented son who died in the summer streets of Ramadi,
The sniper who used to wear a duster and a battle axe to high school,

The sarin at the base of the dam


never showed you,

You’re getting played, the SEAL told me.

You’re getting played, the contractor told me.

The east shore told one story,

The west an other.

The gist not being one or the other,
But the ping pong game,
The division,
The competition,
The crucible of paranoia,
The dare of a swim up the middle
On a cold March morning,
Fifth anniversary of the invasion.



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