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Red Fields

My feet sink
into the Barnestilled soil
of my father-in-law's 
Oklahoma land,
reminding me of times
before I met his daughter.

When I drove along
in a tank convoy 
towards Baghdad 
at the same
pace as a tractor 
over an unplowed field, 
we dug foxholes
in the sand 
with every stop we made.
My driver and I would have
fifteen minutes to dig
two foxholes,
with e-tools
better designed  for
digging 1'x1' cat-holes.

When the sand was soft
like the overworked 
edges of the short-rows
of my father-in-law's fields,
it was a blessing.
We'd dig our holes deep,
safe, to plant ourselves into
if we came under fire,
so we could rise out
when the lead rain ended.

When the sand was as hard
as the unworked 
ground hiding under
the buffalo grass,
our e-tools would chink
at the surface with every hit;
our holes would be shallow,
and we'd push the sand up around
the perimeter, making
a false reservoir of safety,
knowing bullets would penetrate
the powdered walls if we were ambushed,
and our bodies would lie
half-exposed in shallow graves,
in pools coloring the sand
Oklahoma clay.

When his daughter was only
a pin-up girl in my mind,
the sandstorms would erase
the foxholes after we left;
now I drive my father-in-law's tractor
and set the plow into the soil
to cultivate his land.     

Baghdad International

The ninety-four left 
of 3-13 Field Artillery, 
Red Dragon Battalion, 
drove over 
bumps by night, 
bodies by day; 
then in the afternoons, they bagged 
the scrunched, scorched remains 
from yesterday's artillery fires, 
clearing their claim
of the Baghdad airport.
Then they guarded their plot 
with .50 cals, M-249s, 16s, and 203s, 
weapons unable to distinguish
between civilians and suicide bombers,
and futile against the harpy-sized, 
flesh-eating flies that would invade 
night and day, every day.  

Nineteen miles and two days
south of Baghdad,
four Dragons went to Heaven, 
at least we presume; 
their Bibles were recovered. 
They traveled by means of burning 
in a Humvee lit up 
by an Air Force bomb. 

Three others were medivacted out, 
detached from the ninety-four 
as our limbs were detached from our bodies, 
saved from witnessing the airport 
by means of shrapnel, bullets, and a Blackhawk; 
we flew south as the unit continued
on the road home. 

One soldier on a stretcher beside me, 
his legs had apparently sinned 
or traveled upward prematurely 
because they didn't accompany us
any longer, nor did what looks my other buddy had. 
His face now looks as if it were rained on 
by burning shrapnel, which it was.
The ninety-four rose 
from Baghdad by means of a 747. 
They returned to what once was home. 
At least the only other man 
to go through Hell and arise 
went straight to Heaven after. 

They entered another damnation 
full of divorce decrees, drugs, 
and broken bank accounts; 
some brought the death back with them, 
just as we all brought back our badge,
and their families got to go through it too. 

Few returned to a moment's awkward embrace 
of a family knowingly never understanding. 
But each of the ninety-four still had each other 
until car accidents, drug overdoses, 
and return deployments began to pick them off
like a sniper, one by one. 

Fort Sill's New Housing Division
                  Military bases name buildings, roads, training areas, 
                  and everything else after highly decorated soldiers, 
                  retired soldiers, soldiers killed in action, or people 
                  the military killed or captured. Geronimo Road can 
                  also be found on Fort Sill.

I find Robbins Road.

           His freckles sink down, 
                       the color of his lips runs off 
                                   into his white, opaque skin 
                                               that sags down 
                                                           like a sheet 
                                                                       placed over his face. 
           Subtle red and blue lines, 
                                   like broken glass
                                                that stays intact, 
                                                            show through. 
                                                                        A dark worm of red stretches out 
                                                                                    from his lips down 
                                                                                                to the gurney at his back.

I see him finishing 
           right after me around the track, 
           his gray PT shirt clinging to his heaving chest, 
           his freckles shimmering under sweat. 
           His crimson lips form a smile. 
           I smile back and nod, 
           knowing he didn't make time 
           for max points, 
           but with no heart 
           to tell him he didn't. 
           He trains me on push-ups 
           and sit-ups during the week; 
           on the weekend, 
           if his wife permits, 
           I train him on the run.

I turn left onto Oaks Road.

           He stands guard half out of the top 
                       of an armored Humvee. 
                                    A bomb hits and he is almost severed 
                                              at the waist. The medics cut 
                                                          off his blood-saturated DCUs, 
                                                                      place his intestines back in, 
                                                                                  and bundle him with bandages. 

           But the bleeding doesn't stop. 
                       He makes it onto the Blackhawk 
                                   but never gets off.

I see him in my peripheral 
           standing at attention. 
           I curse his creased, 
           dark green BDUs 
           that make my month-old 
           set look wrinkled and faded, 
           his kiwi boots that outshine mine, 
           which I spent hours on 
           the night before. 
           The platoon sergeant praises him 
           and then steps over to me. 
           After cursing Oaks, I ask him, 
           and he shares his military secrets with me, 
           like he shared his life secrets with his fiancÚ. 

I turn right onto Rhen Road.

           He can't be found at first. 
                      He took the impact of the bomb. 
                                   They piece him back together,
                                             no gauze or tape necessary, 
                       place all that can be found 
                                  of him into one bag with 
                                            his dog tags for identification 
                                                       and send him home 
                                                                   to his wife and daughters.

I see him in his dress blues 
           at the Saint Barbara's Ball; 
           I admire his many rows of ribbons, 
           his tight high-and-tight, 
           the shine of the brass U.S. and cross cannons 
           on his lapel. He is the complete package 
           of military bearing, the NCO on the
           Army commercials. 
           I watch him smile 
           toward his wife 
           and her return. 
           I don't approach him 
           with the smudge on my brass U.S.   

I keep searching for my road. 

           Shrapnel pierces my back, 
                       weaving through organs and bones, 
                                   only serrating muscle, 
                                                leaving me perforated, but intact. 
           My blood strains out of my body, 
                      but with several field bandages 
                                 my blood coagulates. 
                                             My lungs keep filling with air. 

My PT shirt clings to my chest 
           after I pump out the max 
           pushups and sit-ups 
           while I await the run. 

           I press my BDUs with an iron 
           and can of spray starch an extra time
           just before formation. 
           After heating my kiwi with a lighter, 
           I pour it lightly over 
           the toes of my boots, 
           then begin to shine. 

           I remove the smudge
           off my brass 
           and call my girlfriend 
           to apologize 
           for the fight 
           we had the night before. 

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