Poetry Archive

They Are Forty Gone to War


Gate D17

The fat man is
at his plane
being late
he could miss
is connection
he screams
at the agent
volume being
a great equalizer
his jowls shake
like the floppy ears
of a bloodhound
clearing its head.

While at gate D15
forty young men
in desert black and tan
wait to board
their plane, some
speaking quietly
reading newspapers
or talking on
cell phones
some returning
from concession
stands, a last bite
to eat and drink
before departure
lost in their river
thoughts their
smooth cheeks
ruddy and dark.

their patience
could set
an example
for the fat man.

For they are forty to Iraq
Some of them will not come back

A black corporal
fiddles with his
duffel bag
tying and retying
a red braid looped
around the strap
he is his mother’s
will they tell
her the truth
about how
he died?

A sergeant whose
nametag reads Morales
walks from one
knob of soldiers
to another,
his words lost
in the din of
and people walking
hurriedly in the aisles
and the fat man
waving his red fist
demanding to see
the gate agent’s

They are forty gone to war
Some of them will be no more.

I close my eyes
imagine that the
ones who will die
could have green skin
or eyes that glow
that we could
pluck them
from the line
send them home
but alive
that fortunes
could be read
and ranked
that destiny
had options
like a menu.

I imagine going
to gate D15
thanking them for
serving our country
wishing them well
in that foreign land
looking for green
skin and glowing
eyes, but I stay
in my seat
lost in my own
river thoughts
and grave.

They are forty to Iraq
Some of them will not come back

When their time
comes they are
herded onto the
plane in a long
line black boots
toward the gate
past USO ladies
with gifts of
cigarettes and
waving flags
prodding them along
we’re so proud
of you
one says
(we have another group
tomorrow, another
while the desert
find their places
fasten seatbelts
listen absently
to iPods or
write a last letter
unable to let go
or dream of a child
growing in a wife’s

They are forty gone to war
ome of them will be no more.

We are all trapped
in this concourse
biding our time
until our departure
is announced
but in the airport
of my imagination
the fat man would
kiss the agent’s feet
and sit in awe
of soldiers
in black and tan

Sergeant Jesus
Morales would die
an old man
his great
at his side
telling gran abuelo
they love him
he would die
with the scent
of jasmine
on his lips
not the insult
of blood
and cordite
the slap and sting
of incoming
the sudden
savage heat
searing muscle
from bone
the certainty of
time’s collapse
and the dying
of the light.

They are forty gone to war
They are forty to Iraq
Some of them will be no more
Some of them will not come bac

                            Terry Bacon


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