Soldier's Joy

November 30, 2006

(For Specialist Mike Moriarty, Rahim Al Haj and all the Joes and Jills and all the Hadjis. This poem is inspired in part by the documentary film The War Tapes, which everyone should see.)

Somewhere back in gradeschool they taught us to sing this one:

Over hill over dale

we have hit that dusty trail

call out your numbers loud and strong

for it's hi hi hee

in the field artillery

as our caissons go rolling along

They handed us cameras

and all the tapes

our National Guard asses

could hump

off to war

I suppose they


it could be

one way to see

if a bit of that story

all its honor and glory

could come

back home

like us

But now it seems sort of like

Gunga Din or The Man Who Would Be King—and less like Saving Private Ryan,

Like dying Sean Connery bellowing "The Minstrel Boy"

or Rudyard Kipling's dusty old war songs that no real soldier ever sings:

On the Road to Mandalay

Where the flyin' fishes play

An' the dawn comes up like thunder

Outer China 'crost the bay

Well, what I would tell you

if I ever could tell you



it's no home movie—

never a story you'd want to see again

but you do


exotic people

in those foreign lands

and you do

get to kill them

just like that awful old joke

always goes

you really do

This strange war-love

who I loved

so well

is the one I left behind

with her burst bloodied head rolling free

just behind me

in the thirsty Arab street

you see,

she crossed blind

stepped out in silent faith

untouched by any hand

where she could never hear or see

our camoflaged Humvee

racing at her

that Baghdad Friday night

in the murky blacked out Muslim desert dusk

—warm wind blowing all the wrong way—

in her full body wrap of dark modest cloth

we bumped her blunt

heavy metal thump

and she felt then our presence

the sudden sound of our armored Yankee strength

the heft of our American imperial sway

she gave way—

gave it all up—


her sweet hadji soul—

in shock and awe—

Just like Rumsfeld, Condi, Bush and all them officers and big shots say

An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,

An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:

Bloomin' idol made o'mud—

Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd—

Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stood!


my love

you were so beautiful,

like that Continental soldier

his glory queue

trailing over shoulder

your hair hung low

my love

god is great and god is merciful

and therefore he let your poor wrecked flesh

and broke bones

be tossed

to his greater glory

that night

"JESUS CHRIST—We hit a woman!"

Against all good sense and contradicting strict orders

we stopped


right there on that devil's highway

I slammed the roof with my gauntlet and the Sargeant howled

our driver hit his brakes

and I swiveled my M-60 round


sighted her down


the convoy never slowed—

straight ahead without honk or horn

ten eighteen wheelers in tight night formation

over her shaking body rolled—

in Iraq you got to go

where you got to go

and the way you go is never


enough to let the hadjis aim

no headlights, just like us

but I saw them glide by

their double tires tore

her apart,

tossed parts here

and there

her soft hair some sorry raghead papa-san

retrieved from the curb

without one angry word

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,

She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!"

With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek

We useter watch the steamers an' the "hathis" pilin' teak.

and then the wail began

god is great

god is good

and I made my triune cross

for her

for me

for all the rag headed

rag cloaked

jihadi souls lost in those scorpion sands,

and cursed crusaders doomed to drift

and never find Jerusalem

and all our poor bodies mashed together

in that barren Baghdad road

on a land we'll always misunderstand

in that blessed place of I E Ds

where I caught

this lousy shrapnel in my knees:


I prayed.


Back home I've hugged the kids



and watched some tv

but they'll send me out again

before I start to try to stop remembering when

I had so much to forget

and her face that

they wrapped in holy hadji rags

it isn't our fault

and never was

and all our fault

is what it always

will be

and I'll love her till the day I die

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,

Where there ain't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst,

For the temple bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea

fucking thing about it was

we were just guarding a load of cheese

—you believe that?—

and burgers

for our people

so they wouldn't feel

so hungry

missing Mickey Dee's

so far,

far from home

and now when I dream

I dream some old forgotten soldier's song

and I don't know when I learned it

where or why

On the road to Mandalay

where the flyin' fishes play

come you back you [lonely] soldier

come you back to Mandalay


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