Poetry - Issue 15 | June 2012

Blackout

by Joanna


Blackout

Khost, Afghanistan

In the blackout sometimes I think
I’m walking down the left hand side
of the road ringing the base.
Where it’s safe. They say. But find

I’ve wandered way across the median
when I’ve wrenched my ankle stumbling
over the asphalt lip into the drainage ditch.

Sometimes it’s taken more than an hour
for me to grope my way back to my hut
in the dark when I can’t see the hand
in front of my face just like the people say.

My student Michael tells me his stories, that way out there
on the most forward bases there’s nothing
but stars and sometimes flares, it’s so black at new moon
the guys jerk off right next to each other and it’s like
their eyes are shut. No one cares. In that kind of black
you can’t judge depth or width. No perspective left.

That’s what happened to Simon. He tried to jump
that drainage ditch at two am out of his mind
on contraband liquor he wheedled out of the Germans
over on the other side. They say his knee won’t ever
be the same. They say he cursed and swung at the MPs
who caught him up in that last sweep with all the others,
the ones who crossed over the divide in the middle
of the night and now they’re gone just whispered of.

Eyes averted I don’t know but this is what I heard.
Mutters around the coffeepot before we plug ourselves
back into our movies our email tug-of-wars with distant lovers
staring into space wondering how it was we got ourselves here,

Stumbling down a pitted half-paved road with nothing
but the old constellations for guide—Orion the mighty hunter
running down the screaming Pleiades, his dog, too, and all
the monsters with the gleaming eyes the ancients traced
in their unpolluted heavens, back when all the myths
I teach to the weary and the dusty lit the warships home
and the legions all set foot sure in the unthinking dark.


About the author

Joanna Grant’s work has previously appeared in Guernica, The Southern Humanities Review, The Southern Women’s Review, and elsewhere. She currently serves as a Wandering Scholar for the University of Maryland University College, teaching English, speech, and humanities courses to soldiers in Afghanistan.

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