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Two Poems by Benjamin Hertwig | Word Riot
Poetry

October 22, 2016      

Two Poems by Benjamin Hertwig

somewhere in the desert

the sergeant drives you to
the front of the firefight like
a dad dropping you off
on the first day of school.

a chance for you to pop your combat cherry

he howls as you flip
off safe, fire a few
rounds at the mud wall
and hope for a hooded
taliban target to appear.
a head flashes past window
frames: you fire a few more.
the sergeant slaps you
on the back and smiles.

that a boy, he grins, get right into it good.

poem for the last time you wore your uniform

his body
weighed
more
in the
remembering
than you
thought a
body could.
 
it was probably
the accumulated
mass of ten years
pushing down
on you—
 
a divorce, a few
doctor’s visits,
a degree or two.
 
the boys you never
saw again.
 
when he was
buried
you didn’t
want to be
wearing your
dress uniform.
 
you didn’t
want to be
wearing
anything,
 
but you shaved
one last
time, scraped
the skin around
your throat,
bled a bit
and drove
the hot highway
to Peers.
 
it didn’t feel right.
things were
just too green,
too overgrown,
 
rank with
weeds and heat.
 
dogshit in the
tall, dry grass.
 
the cameras were
out. the news
crews, the soldiers
and parents and
cousins.
 
everyone threw
lumps of
dirt into
the hole.
 
a cricket
jumped in.
 
the dirt
crumpled in
your hand.
 
dry, infertile.
 
you wanted
winter again,
 
a white
sheet over
 
everything.
 
you didn’t
even get
drunk when
the funeral
was over and
 
ten years later
your dad
found the uniform
in a black garbage
bag at the back
of a closet.
forty dollars
in the pocket.
two twenties—
the old paper kind.
four dollars for
each year
that had passed.

benjamin-hertwigAbout the author:

Benjamin Hertwig is a writer and artist whose work has appeared or is forthcoming on NPR, in the New York Times, Pleiades Magazine, The Literary Review of Canada, THIS, and GEEZ. He lives in Vancouver, on the unceded land of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. His first book of poems, Slow War, is coming out in 2017.

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