Private Zero

by Joshua Lyons

I am Private Zero.
It’s not often that you meet someone
who can so easily, so convincingly lie
straight to your face, their untruth localizing
into a contagious pathogen that manages
to pour out of your mouth, its infection spreading,
a pernicious virus amongst the ranks.
My president lied to me.

What the hell are WMDs?
That was the question that sat
on all our lips, heavy, like a lead plate submerged
in a murky pond, its weight intensified and
burdensome by the obscuring opacity of
the unknown sedimentary layers
lying underneath it. But, ours was not
to question why.

You’ve got the right, the right to rock steady!
You’ve got the right to roll, when you’re ready!

We were both steady and ready, imbued with
the healthy glow of youth and crate upon crate
of ammunition. Willingly, we donned the
feverish blindfold of raw patriotism,
triaged our pockets with hazard and hardship pay
and rolled salty and jackbooted
into Baghdad.

It didn’t take long for antigen replication to occur,
boils breaking through the falsehood’s surface
like a nasty sunburn.
Weapons were found, to be sure, but not
en masse and certainly not overly destructive.
Steadily, we rocked and rolled.
And the infection spread.
This is the point at which the virus mutated
From an acute “Just War” into a systemic
“Moral Cause” conflict, and America has never
quite had the stomach for that.
We weren’t given a specific reason,
but we were forced to stay.

We had pulled on the thread of a ratty bandage
and the exposed wound festered, spilling its
noxious sepsis into the water supply.
Only we had everything to lose.

You’ve got the right, the right to rock steady!
You’ve got the right to roll, when you’re ready!

Funny thing is, you’re never taught
how to engage the brake when rolling
takes you off the rails. An Infantryman doesn’t
know how to reverse—we are reactionary treatments,
not antibodies.
Surrounded by the smoldering rubble of this
once thriving, ancient place, it became
clear that we were the weapons of mass destruction.
We weren’t hiding.
We were here all along.