The 40,000 & the One

The world is full of screams
and falling leaves.
Was that wild delight turning into blows?
And did the little man in the faded uniform
suddenly come alive in rage?
The van he left in the middle of the street is
still there. The cops look for him
while he looks for himself.
If they move the vehicle before the CSP,
the crime scene photographer,
they will erase the entire incident too quickly
even for those who joke and nudge corpses
with their feet
smoking, waiting, preserving
the holiest place outside of church or birth.
When someday the asphalt is repaved,
covered over with a truckload of steaming black
smoothed out with the weight of an ancient machine,
yellow lines drawn again to stop you from passing,
even the dogs won’t be able to tell what
happened there.

I don’t know what happened to
Sgt. Benjamin J. Layman, 22, of Mt. Vernon Ohio
and Sgt. Justin D. Norton, 21, of Rainier, Washington,
the names on today’s list.
The D O D says they “died on June 24 in the vicinity
of Baghdad from injuries sustained
when they encountered enemy forces & small arms
fire, and an improvised explosive device which
detonated during a dismounted patrol.”
Yes, you have to get out of the big humvee
they promise you in the glamorous ads and even if
you’re in it, it won’t protect you worth shit.
It is noted that the notice of your death is numbered 606-06,
and it comes from the Assistant Sec.of Defense for Public Affairs.
Such glory ye shall receive for God and country.

Our great friends and allies the British,
have lost a grand total of 113 men,
not that I should begrudge them the small number,
but I do.
Just as I begrudge the death last week
of Joshua Priddy, 22, in Ohio, on Rte 163,
near milepost 19 in Erie Township,
of a motorcycle crash.
He had survived a tour in Iraq, survived
and IED explosion – been a hero saving others,
survived and come back, yet there was a chance,
they say, that his unit would be returning to Iraq. He was
traveling at a terrific rate of speed when he veered off
the road. The accident is under investigation.

I also begrudge the death of Russel Yasser,
daughter of Yas al Khafaji, 11 yrs old,
died 18 November 2005 with her mother Zehra
of a suicide car bomb in Jadiriyah Baghdad,
the death of Ahmad Rashid Al-Rawi,
adult male, political party member
kidnapped & shot
in Ramad 7 November 2005
the daughter of Nabiel Sharaf Aldeen
aged 2, of gunfire in Kirkuk.

I will decry the names of 40,000 dead in
the fertile crescent of a childhood dreaming.
I will decry our names of 2,584.
I will decry the British 113.
And I will decry the death of you, Joshua Priddy,
near milepost 19.

The world is full of screams and falling leaves,
but you have yet to hear my voice.


PBSweeney June 2006


2 responses to “The 40,000 & the One

  1. I just noticed this one. This piece of writing smoulders with a certain passion that’s chill-inducing. I get an overall impression of the universality of human life, that no life is to be valued against another. Death is death, newsprint or politics bedamned.

  2. Once again you touch a tender place, this Oct. my only grandson must deploy with the Marines, in my heart swells the pride that only a Marine can feel in another and the fear of a grand pa. Love your work both this type and the nature sonets,

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