The “bang-banging” shot through the hills
like the cry of the stirred-up crow that we
didn’t see until it was already circling above us.
And we were crows, hidden in the brush, high on
the hilltops – our perch – keeping watchful eye,
our beaks low in the foliage, at a whisper, our
attention at anything that moved, at any snap
or pop in the leaves and twigs.
We were hunters, predators, and scavengers.
We were snipers surviving the whining “I got
Our camouflage didn’t match. It was mostly
old scraps from Army/Navy stores and local flea
markets at the softball fields – all ripped, torn,
and with holes in the knees – but we didn’t give a
shit. We were proud in our hand-me-down jungle
boots, with dirt smeared across our faces, and our
folding pocket knives, closed, and hidden, so that
Mother wouldn’t see how much her boys wanted
to be men.
And, like men, we tried; crawling on our bellies
over moss and mushrooms, over acorns and shale
stones, dipping down into trickling creek beds, ready
to ambush, with water in our socks, waiting for the
We thought we were men when wet feet and muddy
fists settled those arguments that words could not.
But even with blood dried noses and strawberried
elbows, we still ran like Rambo though the jungles
of Grandpa’s twelve acres, screaming our battle cries,
and dodging imaginary bullets from plastic pistols and
tree limbed bazookas.
We were John Wayne and Clint Eastwood,
machine-gunning down our enemies up on top
of Heartbreak Ridge. We were pretending to
defend The Alamo.
Just some stone and mortar stuck out here in the desert,
with a bulldozed berm and razor wire around it.
It’s not pretend, anymore.
Here, Al Anbar sand makes mud on my sweat ringed
combat boots, while we patrol in staggered columns
through the palms of the Euphrates.
And I think back to those days when we tried to be
men… and I wonder, now, if I am a man; or still
a child; or just stuck somewhere in between?
Now, this gun, slung tight around my neck, is heavier
than I thought it would be. And it’s loud. Louder than
thoughts of home, or of crows and boys running wild
through Grandpa’s wooded hills.
These grenades in my pouch are real, they are cold, and
they are taped down so that they do not explode in my
face. They are nothing like those sticky pinecones that we
used to throw.
And this steel blade beside them, zip-tied to the webbing
of my flak jacket, is bigger than any of those old hardware
store, display case, double bladed folders that I used to have.
It’s serrated and has a blood groove for stabbing.
I keep it covered in pictures of home for my mother.
*Previously published in Of Love and War by Jacob Paul Patchen, published by Adelaide Books.