Babylon 2003
by Jason Tauches


It’s after noon in Al Hilla, and

I’m in the Bazaar outside the front gate

behind the ruins of the city,

watching the men, in white robes surrounding Paul,

and he’s watching those around me, watching

their hands,

and the sun is high

as we walk up the narrow rows of wood

and cloth stalls through crowds of men who

beckon with smiles exposing rotten

teeth. I have one hand on my holster, the other’s

on my money as kids, just like American

kids but with no shoes,

dart from Marine to soldier saying “Mistah, mistah,”

grabbing our hands and pulling us along.

At a stall near the back

Paul buys a pirated copy

of the “Incredible Hulk” and I get

a CD by Nawal, a roast chicken

and a Coke with their lettering on it.

I pay the asking price, never

haggling with one without shoes. We walk back

along the road, towards

the gate, into the shade of palm trees

that drink from the Euphrates, past the sentry

talking to an Iraqi who’s

leaning on a cane and pulling

his robe up high on one outstretched leg

showing an old gunshot wound that hasn’t healed.

We ignore a few shots off in the distance

because it’s Thursday, Marriage day,

and the waves rise from the pavement even

though it’s late August and the heat has turned.

We pass a crowd gathered in front of a row

of port-a-johns along the road

I glimpse through a gap in the crowd,

through an open door,

to the soldier seated, fully clothed,

slumped over the rifle between his knees,

a spray of red colors the wall behind him.

We walk on in the shade,

passing the ruins of the ancient city:

the lumps of dirt and brick

rising from the cool dark spaces in-between.

Joel Preston Smithhttp://www.joelprestonsmith.comshapeimage_3_link_0

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