Devil’s Lake

Spring 2013 Issue

Grady Chambers: Dispatch: Bamyan, Helmand, Baghlan, Ghor, 2008

In high school we squinted at the grainy film

of a beheading and watched the glow of televised mortars in Iraqi cities,

discussed body counts and tactics, fired up the console to a pixilated warfare

where a gentle hand was prized in rolling a grenade beneath an enemy tank.

                    We cheered when one another’s screens went red.

And we talked about God, Rachmaninoff, the battleships docked

off Pakistan and the Afghan Provinces: Bamyan, Helmand, Baghlan, Ghor.

We spoke the names like we’d been there.

                    While Ryan went to basic training on Parris Island we watched

on television our leaders’ claims of victory, behind them the unseen losses, the blacked out

boxes wrapped in flags and stacked in cargo holds and delivered to a cemetery in Arlington.

You’d have to travel a thousand miles and a day to understand the weight

of bodies staring up at their own flagged headstones.

                    I never did. Instead I walked

through an airport with a closely cropped head and a duffel and was stopped

by a woman who touched my chest and said thank you, thank you

for your service.

                    I did not correct her. I walked away

and was later embarrassed sitting in a gilded library where I wrote papers on the ethics

of war and torture and watched Ryan’s status updates change from Parris!

to 0500 for laps at Shutter Island, to balls deep in recon county,

to pictures where men—boys really—stood in lines gripping guns in a vertical hold.

                    Then silence,

then Ryan sunglassed and kneeling in camo, smoke rising off the road: he had turned

into an abstract specific—Machine Gunner, CAB, 4th Marines—while I clicked refresh, refresh, until he returned home on leave and we sat in a bar

and I looked at his chest—the thickness, the flatness—

and talked about the elections while he shrugged and nodded.

                    The distance

was in the scraps of labels I’d peeled off bottles, the silence

in the book of war stories I inscribed with a Schopenhauer quote about human suffering

and gave him before his second tour and later found beneath the passenger seat of my car.

                    And the silence is in the way my heart beats

the memory of the day a cell phone lit up a vest

that turned a market in Helmand to fragments

and bodies back to atoms

and Ryan’s status changed to RIP PFC. Dustin Bray, feels like yesterday

I was bumming Cope off you in the barracks, Semper Fi,

the same day my friends and I lit bottle rockets on rooftops

and called each other

by our idiot nicknames—Slick Pesos, Donny Rubble, Frankie Knuckles—and jammed

our hands into foam fingers and cheered

in a stadium at the ceremony

of F-16s tearing seams in the sky.

a photo of the author, Grady Chambers GRADY CHAMBERS was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His poetry and nonfiction have recently appeared in The Coffin Factory, Softblow, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Syracuse, New York, where he is a student in the graduate program in creative writing at Syracuse University. More from this issue >