Three poems by Adam Graaf

At the Kuwait-Iraq Border

A boy—as young as I was
when I threw rocks at our elkhound
because I was bored and wanted to
test him—tumbled down a ditch.

I wish I could tell you
he was just a kid doing the things
kids do: stupid things. They throw stuff
at other things, they fall, they hurt themselves.
When they’re curious, they watch
strangers cruise their neighborhood streets;
the bravest peek inside windows
of trucks bigger than anything they’ve ever seen.
And sometimes, too excited,
they lose control and trip, stumble down
a rocky ditch and come up bleeding.

Instead, I have to tell you
kids do stupid things when they play
war. They get scared and duck,
they curse and anger easily at a boy throwing rocks.
And sometimes, after three handfuls rattle
their truck, they catch that boy’s arm. They shake
pebbles from his dainty fist and dangle him
squirming over the roadway, level
their rifle and grin before flinging him
about as far as they threw rocks
when they were his age.



Fragment: The Breakup

After the marketplace bomb,
Sgt. Blythe sent his girlfriend
a sandal and a photo of its pair
still on the dead woman’s foot.

When his girl doesn’t reply,
he sends her a letter to tell her
he’s met someone else;
his sweetheart is dead gorgeous
but walks with a funny limp.
She can keep the photo, he explains,
but she’ll need to return the sandal.



for Campbell

It takes at least 5.5 lbs of pressure
to trigger the firing pin, release a ball round
from its casing and send it wailing
through the rifle’s barrel toward the center of a man
racing down Askari Street from the shop
where your Marines traced wires
connected to a goat’s carcass
swollen with explosives, rusty bolts, and nails,
a man your Devil Dogs chase, a man who leaps
over a pressure plate before they have time to react—
the bomb bursting eardrums, so you can’t hear them
calling Corpsman! from around the corner,
the cursing as they drag a legless body
to you. It’s all still muffled
when you shout to press hard on the body’s groin,
as you tourniquet mangled limbs mid-thigh,
confirm a radial pulse: a sign
Pvt. Conklin has sufficient pressure to keep alive
the rest of him, so that months from now
he’ll be able to dream about the moments
he doesn’t remember, feel singed nerves carry signals
beyond flesh—the air aching where his legs used to be.
And like him, you’ll find it easy to relieve the burden,
rely on the slight effort it takes to release the pressure
of another bottle cap—the same hiss of a bullet,
the sound that brings it all back.



Adam Graaf’s poems have appeared in Breakwater Review; War, Literature & the Arts; CONSEQUENCE magazine, and elsewhere. He received his MFA from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he was an instructor of Intro. to Creative Writing. Adam previously led poetry workshops at Bay State Correctional Center and is an active member of Warrior Writers. He is the recipient of the New England Poetry Club’s John Holmes Award and an Academy of American Poets Prize.

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