If, like Yusef, one American soldier embedded
in the blast of a sandstorm
carries even one page of poetry in a breast pocket,
it would lean against his heart.
Words nudging gun ammo, the smallest lines
on a page would hold up
the Arabian sky filling his eyes with oil-smoke.
I think of how the bunker
could inspire his own lines: Dear Mr. President, he'd start.
You've screwed us this time.
A poet named Yusef carried two poetry books in Nam
and they saved his life. Where are mine?
Glad I am not this soldier who may be my student,
the one whom I taught
form and detail, and never expected that he would
engage rifle and gas mask,
convoy in lock-step, do those almighty U-turns.
It's my fault if I forgot
to remind him that a line of any good poetry
can drive a wedge in desert,
untangle him from darkness like a curtain
pulled to offer morning light.
I want to believe he'd jot sentence fragments,
his other eye on an MRE:
Dearest Lord, how do I get out of this shithole?
When? Why wasn't I told...
Where, in his lines, a shooting star is an escape route.
Where earplugs drown cries.
Where food and water are carried to those still alive
on the backs of scorpions.
Where these words of his do not die like black clouds
bringing missiles, but live,
always, far removed from the land of falling bodies.
April is National Poetry Month.
Jeffrey Hillard will read April 16 in the "Poetry in the Garden" series at the downtown branch of the Public Library.