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Letters From Camp Bucca

I think of you, my sister's son,
sent into the theater of war,
and I know that you are keeping watch
over some other mother's son,
thousands of them,
in a makeshift prisoner of war camp in Iraq.
I know you are thinking of home.

Maybe you are keeping watch
over someone else's third born son,
like yourself,
maybe someone who would just as easily
slash your throat as ask you for a smoke,
just as soon slay you as obey you.
Keeping watch. Not what you hoped for.

Your April letters arrived all at once.
I set aside a solitary hour to
read your dispatches from the war zone.
One letter, dated 26 APR 05, was different.
You wrote about one man,
a crazy man who was distraught over his detention.
The prisoner wept from behind the fence
and begged you to let him go home.
He begged, you said.

You sent in a medic,
who stood too close to the prisoner, and
was suddenly in the clutches of despair.
When the crazy man lost control you had to
take him down, but not hard.

Using Arabic words, you consoled him:
Be calm, brother, be calm.
Your only wish - to hold and not to harm him.
You held him for a while.

Then you gathered up a broken man,
his hope dissolved, and led him
through the compound to the ambulance
that took him to lockdown.
The other prisoners watched as you performed
your necessary maneuvers,
carried out unspoken orders,
and followed rigid training,
just like you were supposed to.

The man's weeping softened the grit of a guard,
a seasoned military cop, for a moment.
You fixed your gaze forward as you walked
back through the compound to avoid
the eyes of Iraqis who were still watching.
Gaze fixed forward.

In another time, in another place,
you might have seen this man
by the side of the road,
offered him a ride,
shared your lunch,
asked about his children, his mother,
what it felt like to be going home.