Monday Jun 24

MartinHugh Hugh Martin is a veteran of the Iraq war and the author of The Stick Soldiers (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2013) and So, How Was the War (Kent State UP, 2010).  His work has appeared recently in The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, and The New York Times’ At War blog.  Martin has an MFA from Arizona State and he is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.


Fifty-Caliber Scarf
—Camp Udairi, Kuwait

All day the sand outside
stiffens below our boots
while we carry wood crates

and green cans of ammunition
inside the tent where we sleep.
Tomorrow, we’ll drive north

with these rounds piled in trucks,
in trunks of Humvees, and put them,
one by one, into steel magazines

we’ll stuff into our vest-
pockets and snap into the feeds
of our rifles. All of this ammo
is ours. Treen pops open
a can of Fifty-Cal and begins
unfolding the long chain

with both his hands, lifting it
like a snake from the ground,
trying to curl the weight,

holding it over his head
and setting it like a bronze stole
around his neck. His scarf,

he says before someone snaps
a picture. Soon, all of us begin
lifting this chain onto our shoulders,

posing for pictures, hardly able
to stand straight or take it off
by ourselves, this ammo

we might use, though all of us
had only killed thousands
of plastic men in America

on forts named for famous
Generals; men whose red rifles
were painted over their plastic

hearts; who never shot back.
Before the photo, we do our best
to straighten our posture, crane back

our slouching necks, loosen
the strain on our faces,
pretend as if we feel nothing,

like the chain is heavy
as a scarf, but after the flash,
we again lean over, curse the weight,

the tips of the rounds
on our skin, and beg each other
to help, to take the damn thing off.

Ohio High-Life
—for Whit

We’ll die in this 21st century, what’s left of us
buried to wait for the sun’s passing,

its warmth turning us into, what will, not too soon,
become the specks
of other planetary bodies.

Like Krauss says, Forget Jesus…stars died for you. Meanwhile,
you watch NASCAR and drink High-Life

on the couch with your father.
Your Uncle Eagle tried this fall to save something:
he ran out to a burning vehicle on Main Street

and pissed, hard and long, on the hood steaming
with smoke. We do

what we can.
In the Village, most people desire The End of Days
when the stars will fall to the earth like figs. It’s assuring

to rest knowing all these lives won’t
go on without you. We like to be selfish

like that. But not your father who always handed me
cold beer in his backyard. Even in August when cars burn
in West Lafayette, Ohio.

Wave of Bombings
16 More Killed in Wave of Bombings in Iraq
                        —New York Times, 7/17/13

There was never a black bowling ball, a burning fuse
waving its tail
like in a cartoon. No bombs but

in things. No IED’s but
in things: the mound
of beige bricks; the soft waves

of sand beside the road; the bridge above
the muddy Diyala. There was never

water, never:
splash. The bombs not delivered like trays of drinks

on falling crests. For our crew
of four, there was—not
a wave—the punch of wind, a film
of dust, shrapnel in the bodies:

Kenson, the Humvee. On patrols we’d wave
to the children. Some would wave,

some would run. Iraqis would run,
after bombs, in waves
as if to prove they still

had legs. Don’t think of the thousands of legs
as they stretch together at ball games
to see and be

the wave. It will happen as someone is eating
or opening a window or walking

dully along. In my case, driving the M114 up-armored Humvee
dully along. Always a ball
of flame, like and unlike the sun

Icarus flew too close to. Don’t think
of the slow redundant ocean-
flop to shore, nor

the tsunami’s rising
ridge of sea. When we,
the alive ones, returned,

they stood around us like a parted sea
as they waved little flags
on short wooden sticks.