The last time I stood this close to an Iraqi,
I was inside the skin
of a Kuwaiti ship off the coast
of Al-Ahmadi, zip tying a man’s ankles
to the metal legs of a chair, my pistol aimed
at the bluest vein
in his throat, safety off, finger on
the trigger. Now, we’re standing across
from each other, close as two wrists
cinched in prayer,
only a glass counter to separate us.
Every morning, I purchase
the same things: black coffee, cigarettes.
Every morning he says:
Are you trying to kill yourself? I say nothing.
He whispers something in Arabic,
not hush, not salvo.
The graffiti’s long been scrubbed
from the bodega’s brick façade,
yet a ghost of spray-painted letters
remain: Haji, Towel-head.
Someone’s shot a hole into the pane
glass—it sounds like a sucking
chest wound whenever the wind
hits the window.
From under the counter, he pulls
a long black rifle, new, never fired.
He says it’s for protection; hold it,
he says, pretend I’m your worst enemy.
He wouldn’t forgive me if I told him,
so I don’t. I don’t tell him how the hand
that’s held a rifle remembers its weight
or how, years ago, I watched three Iraqis
drown in the Arabian Gulf. I want to tell
him how I tried to save them all, held
one man’s head above the whitecaps,
our mouths close enough to kiss.
He wouldn’t forgive me if I did, so I don’t.
In the morning, his young son kneels,
scours fresh spray paint from the storefront’s
brick wall: Terrorists. He’s started at the end,
managed to erase all but the word Terror.
I roll my sleeves to my wrists,
cover the tattoo that means Death
God becomes the hour between bombings.