I’ve seen the Mojave, but I’ve never seen the desert.
In training, I swept for mines, but I’ve never seen
my brother’s leg destroyed after detonation;
I’ve seen the legless soldier walking with a prosthetic
across town, through the grocery store, at drill,
trying to hold on for one more year, for pension.
I’ve seen the different phases of training—crawl,
walk, run—and I’ve seen the failure of battalions
at each phase. I’ve cleared a path, myself,
and marked, with flags, the safe zone;
and I’ve walked through such a minefield.
I’ve witnessed the Volcano, a machine, scatter
960 antitank mines
over one kilometer of sand, but never have I
seen the battle, or the desert, or those mines, or TOC
calling a precision-bombing air strike across the line.
I’ve dismantled many mines, winnowed Russian mines
from French mines, but I’ve never seen the mines
on television; I’ve known soldiers who have seen
those mines; soldiers caught under fire, blasting cap
clenched in the mouth, jaw gone missing;
and that must be what it means to see the desert:
a face charred, blood dried and stuck to bone,
the land laid out before you erupting.
Copyright © 2013 Kerry James Evans
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.