by Steven Croft
We’ve heard about the chase before the night patrol rolls in,
spent bullet casings from overhead gun turrets falling
out of Humvee doors as soldiers jump out at the clearing barrels,
the empty chamber clicks of many rifles means ‘all clear.’ Soon,
Sergeant Hines walks into the tent with the adrenaline wave field
of their chase still on him, we feel it–like they’re still chasing a
dark sedan that set, exploded an IED against them. Hot from the desert,
now in the tent’s fluorescent light and constant HVAC cool, someone
says, “Dude, have you seen your face?!” A bloody mash under his helmet,
his uniform singed where his arms stuck up from the iron circle
of the vehicle gun turret, out from his body armor. Someone yells out,
to the outside of the tent, “medic!” He is laughing, scolded by the angry,
now arrived medic who’s trying to see, with alcohol wipes, how deep
the explosion’s shrapnel has cut into his skin. Hines is telling us
of bottoming out, jumping small dunes in a field, chasing the sedan that’s
scarred this new face his wife will see. The medic says he can stay
in the tent, his face now bandaged, but orders him to sick-call at 5:00 AM.
I listen a little into the night, wondering when he, his friends will sleep.
I’ve rarely heard laughter in Iraq–I realize this is the joy
of being alive, and, as I fall asleep, it warms me.