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The Saturday Poem: Field Manual

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by Kevin Powers

Think not of battles, but rather after,
when the tremor in your right leg
becomes a shake you cannot stop, when the burned man's
tendoned cheeks are locked into a scream that,
before you sank the bullet in his brain to end it,
had been quite loud. Think of how he still seems to scream.
Think of not caring. Call this "relief."

Think heat waves rising from the dust.
Think days of rest, how the sergeant lays
the .22 into your palm and says the dogs
outside the wire have become a threat
to good order and to discipline:
some boys have taken them as pets, they spread
disease, they bit a colonel preening for a TV crew.

Think of afternoons in T-shirt and shorts,
the unending sun, the bite of sweat in eyes.
Think of missing so often it becomes absurd.
Think quick pop, yelp, then puckered fur.
Think skinny ribs. Think smell.
Think almost reaching grief, but
not quite getting there.

• From Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (Sceptre, £12.99). To order a copy for £X.XX with free UK p&p go to guardianbookshop.co.uk or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.


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