Here in this hot-as-hell Humvee, middle of a convoy traversing a warren of nameless Iraqi streets dissolving into sand behind a hard wind-driven wall of desert dust. Maintaining visual contact with the truck in front and the Humvee behind, I scanned constantly side-to-side searching for suspicious individuals or groups along the roadway, Improvised Explosive Devices, abandoned vehicles, dead animals, overpasses, and shooters in elevated positions. At times like these I kissed my St. Christopher medal; my mom had given it to me, and it had been hers since before she emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.

The truck in front slowed.

I slowed.

The truck stopped.

I stopped.

Ignore the tareek sign because they’ve been swapped to make it harder to navigate the Baghdad streets. We had stopped near a maktag sharig where two vehicles had been abandoned. We’d lost five soldiers within the last twenty-four hours. Abandoned vehicles meant IEDs. Sometimes they’d hide explosives inside the body of a dead child.

A dog yipped and I glanced out the side window at a wounded stray, yellow as spun gold, not ten yards from my vehicle. It had both hind legs missing and it flopped around like a decked fish.


Oh, pesciolino, non piangere più. Oh, pesciolino, non pianger mai più . . .

At night every night here in this creaking hospital cot I lay awake as long as I could until I would pass out, and in these times I’d pray for my mom, and for myself. When I slept I had these dreams.

“Shut up, see,” he said. “Quit cryin like a fish,” he said. “Your momma ain’t comin to save you,” he said.

I shivered as if from the cold but the room was on fire, shimmering like the vapor off hot stone tombs. Reek of rotted eggs.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. “Why are you here?”

“Yellowcake,” I said.

“Like a urinal cake?”

“Yeah, sure, might as well’ve been. This place stinks like a urinal.”

“Cry me a river, Lieutenant,” he said.

“It’s so hot,” I said. “I wish I had some water. I’d drink you, if I could get the lid off of you.”

“You’re cookin with gas now,” he said. “What does a rich kid like you do when he gets to go back home?”

“Go fishing, maybe,” I said. “When I can get about again.”

I tongued the ragged tear on the inside of my cheek and the dull pain sharpened. I tasted salty copper. Scraped the yellow sandy hair out of my eyes, which had grown raggedly long since I’d been in here. Farther on, somebody cried, somebody wept themselves to sleep.

I thought of the Pesciolino song and the woman who loved me unconditionally. When someone loves you, they need a piece of you. You swap pieces. A communion of exchange. I loved enough to leave a piece of me behind and we are forever together because of it. I am sand. I am iron in the dirt. Bleached bone.

“You never learnt your lesson, Fish,” he said. “You gone to the wrong school, see?”

Continued in Confrontation 121, Spring 2017.