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June 4, 2019 Poetry


Graham Barnhart

TWO POEMS  photo

What's It Like?

           We have made unspeakable mean indescribable:
           it really means nasty.
                                   -Paul Fussell

You don’t mean nasty. You mean today
a fresh ejected 50. cal casing,
hot brass thick round as a lipstick shuttle,
coerced new blisters from your neck, and earlier 
leaves stirred in wind you couldn’t feel 
as you watched a camel through a scope
bend down dying. You mean the chirps, 
whistles, and wind drawn trilling 
from the roof top vents of the abandoned 
Red Cross warehouse—in its empty compound
next to yours—were indistinguishable 
from song thrush nesting in the concertina.


At the end of OEF thirteen, we visited Qala-i-Jangi.
That prison-fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif.

There was only one guard. He was happy 
to lead us through the afternoon hay grass 

still sifting bomb rubble. We took pictures 
with him next to the memorial for the only casualty 

whose name we knew. I thought there were others:
shots of the guard at the entrance to the bunker 

where the rioting prisoners were drowned; 
with the purple loosestrife gathered

trembling against the walls; the walls
crumbling like aqueducts; the basement cells 

cool and dark and quiet. I only found a few 
of us—soldiers in civilian clothes, at the Blue Mosque, 

pistols tucked behind our backs; of the tribal rugs 
we bought afterwards in the bazaar.

image: Kristin Chen