Four-Letter Word

by Hugh Martin


I don’t wanna hear that fuckin’ four-letter word.
- Specialist Skeen in a bar in Leesville, Louisiana, after getting his 35th tattoo.


1.

At Fort Polk, Louisiana,
the Opposition Force shoots
all three of us,
but we enjoy this death,

which gives us a chance to sit,
smoke, rest our feet.  Dying
is part of training
for war in Iraq.

We leave in two months.


2.

My Aunt Joan hates that I’m going.
She talks

at the retirement home,
My nephew is going
to EAR-RACK!
saying the four-letter word

like food she’s trying
to spit out.


3.

Killed
when his convoy vehicle
struck a roadside bomb

Killed
when a roadside bomb
hit his vehicle on a mounted patrol

Killed
when his unit was ambushed
with small-arms fire

Killed—


4.

On the slow computer
in the Internet and Phone Center, I say
the names of the dead.

Age, hometown,
cause of death.

IED, RPG,
small arms,
vehicle-rollover, car bomb—
things to be avoided.


5.

At home, Christmas leave.

This is our son, he’s going to Iraq.
He’s leaving for Iraq.
His unit is being mobilized for Iraq,

He has to go to Iraq.
I’ll get you a drink, you’re going to Iraq.
E-mail me when you get to Iraq.

Hopefully things will get better when you get to Iraq.
Are you scared about going to Iraq?
Did you know you would have to go to Iraq?

I can’t imagine going to Iraq.
Is there a chance you might not go to Iraq?
Where will you be in Iraq?

What will you be doing in Iraq?
How long will you be in Iraq?
Iraq?  Really? Iraq?


6.

My Chemistry professor asks
why I’m withdrawing from class.

She says, e-mail your address
I’ll send you guys cookies.


7.

At Ohio State
with Jake and Larry, we walk

from house to house,
keg to keg, drink beers

from a book bag.  When I wake
on white carpet in a living room,
I’m not sure what has happened,

but I’m still going to Iraq.


8.

Channels went home for Christmas;
he never came back to Bragg.

He’s AWOL; LT says
the Marshals will find him
within a week.


9.

Asleep in the barracks.
Three a.m., two feet
hit the floor.  Someone runs

(tomorrow we will know it was Spencer)
to the lighted latrine,
and three paces from my bunk,
spew lashes

across the red floor as if dumped
from a bucket above—but he doesn’t stop,
vomit falling as he runs,

and in the stall,
after coughing up the rest,
a slow breathing,
cold water in the sink; he sucks it

from a cupped hand, again and again.


10.

At the high school football game,
Dan and John shake my hand.  They stand

in thick, unzipped jackets.
When we lean left

with the hundreds of heads

watching the ball in the air
soaring to our home end zone,

I feel the tremors in my chest,
the silent crowd inhaling to explode,

the open mouths,
the arms, the screams.


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