Great Plain

Here is where appreciation starts, the boy
in a dusty velour tracksuit almost getting shot.
When I say boy, I mean it. When I say almost
getting shot, I mean exactly that. For bringing
unexploded mortars right up to us
takes a special kind of courage I don’t have.
A dollar for each one, I’m told,
on orders from brigade HQ
to let the children do the dirty work.

When I say, I’d say fuck that, let the bastards find them
with the heels of boots and who cares if I mean us
as bastards and who cares if heels of boots mean things
that once were, the way grass once was a green thing
and now is not, the way the muezzin call once was
five times today and now is not

and when I say heel of boot I hope you’ll appreciate
that I really mean the gone foot, any one of us

timbered and inert and when I say green
I mean like fucking Nebraska, wagon wheels on the prairie
and other things that can’t be appreciated
until you’re really far away and they come up
as points of reference.

I don’t know what Nebraska looks like.
I’ve never been. When I say Nebraska
I mean the idea of, the way an ex-girlfriend of mine
once talked about the idea of a gun. But guns are not ideas.
They are not things to which comparisons are made. They are

one weight in my hand when the little boy crests the green hill
and the possibilities of shooting him or not extend out from me
like the spokes of a wheel. The hills are not green anymore
and in my mind they never were, though when I say they were
I mean I’m talking about reality. I appreciate that too,

the hills were green,
someone else has paid him
for his scavenging, one less

exploding thing beneath our feet.
I appreciate the fact
that for at least one day I don’t have to decide
between dying and shooting a little boy

From Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. Reproduced with kind permission from Hodder & Stoughton.