Biografia Militaria in Eight Movements

 When a man begets war and doesn't know

what to do with it, should he bathe it? Should he

clothe it? Should he feed it? Should he comb its

hair and send it with its siblings to school?

Should he hire a nanny to contain it?

Should he use his thumb and index to pinch its nostrils

 to stop bleeding? It's an odd thing that requires

zillions of cigarettes and better coffee.


I hid my panic in my back pocket and got

inside the military UAZ. From the back seat I could

see nothing ahead but the driver's dusty beret. I looked

past the side window glass at the scorched palm tree fields. At madness

cosmic carpet between river Jasim and Basra. At death breeding

behind every atom of dust. The body collectors were moving behind.

Emptying the pockets of all remains. Tossing all in their van:

Talismans. Prayers. Love letters. Photographs.

It takes two to tango, but one to wage a witless war.


Memories flashed like naked women in camp Nahrawan.

The squad escaped through the desert zigzagged routes.

We became restless of the captain's jitters.

To rise from blood stains we carved green mounds.

To fly from fake glory we painted hazel eyes.

Bring these boys and shave their heads!

You will never see your moms again!

Wasn't that my life and your endless wars?


Women woven from the seas. Milky whiteness.

Luminous eyes. Alluring cleavages.

Tender words. Common familiarities.

Smiles and laughter.

 Prolonged kisses.

Two white pigeons rejoicing in their freedom.

With this crooked sword I'll topple the government of this valley.


We crossed his hands on his chest in the coffin

and wondered what to do next. Had we the breath.

Had we the tongue, the language, the wisdom, the time.

 Had we not been like clumsy commas in stupid sentences,

we might have said a prayer. You will always come to such

 sights in this first and last of all human blunders.

Let women question it, children eat it, mothers mourn it,

fathers bear it and friends carry the weight of it.


The whole place was so bleak.

The enemy scorched everything upon retreat.

There was no village,

no trees,

no grass,

no animals,

no birds,

no clean water to drink

 or to wash our guilty hands.

The black windows of burnt-out houses

 stood in rows like the mouths of heathen gods.

We tried to remain sensible as best as we could.

War is a mousetrap for devils, said the sergeant.

We thought of those who were less fortunate than us,

and delightfully ate our meals.


So that woman.

That sad woman.

That raunchy sad woman at my friend's funeral

knew that I wanted her more than tea and tobacco

yet I chose to measure my leave time in bottles of beer.

A bottle for snipers.

A bottle for the deep wound in my left side.

A bottle for wet trenches and army samoon.

A bottle for shrapnel fire at any given moment of the day.

A bottle for the bloodstained dust and the smell of different deaths.

A bottle for the Katyusha salvos screaming like tempestuous winds in my ears.

A bottle for my girlfriend who found out that marrying an officer is a shortcut to El Dorado.

A bottle for Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Bonaparte and Jabar Shanshal.

A bottle for Macbeth, Othello, Richard II and General Qassim.

A bottle for Fortinbras giving orders to carry Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage.

A bottle for the blue-skinned woman that tossed the golden apple in the feast of the gods.

A bottle for Plato's academy and Aristotle's ethics.

A bottle for all the bullets shot at me so far.

A bottle for gunners, sappers, signalmen, hedgehogs and mines.

And a bottle for me as I look at my fingers on the grassy knoll

but if I get drunk,…

Kill me!


You will understand what I mean,

 when a grey wolf feeds on your flesh daily

but never gets satiated.

When Troy becomes Baghdad,

and forensic evidence proves

that Achilles was shot in the heart, not the heel.

 When the general's wife dates a mean mechanic after his death

and does not feel anything about it.

 When your girlfriend breaks up with you

because you found out that Sartre's being and nothingness

 was more pertinent than praising her new dress.

When Gorky's mother receives collateral damage every day,

 but opts to enjoy the silence of the lambs every night before

she goes to sleep. 

When Ulysses is lost for eight more years

 and his wife applies for social security benefits and gets nothing.

When Claudius rapes your mom,

fools your girlfriend,

kills your dad,

and use your friends to spy on you.

When you know that even at twenty,

you will never date Catherine Zeta-Jones

and that your best chance would be to 

to polish the captain's boots

and wash his dirty linen in public.

When the disunited nations

steal your baby's milk to spite doctor Faustus

and delegate Madeleine Albright to say it's all worth it.

When you run out of everything

and your wife tells you there's nothing

but nothing in the house.

When you roam Baghdad streets every day,

armed only with your bare ribs,

to feed your big family. 

When the secretary of defense decides

when you can meet your wife

and the Home Office dispatches

all its spotted hyenas

to bite the body of the fallen camel.

Then, and only then,

you will understand what I mean,

or, maybe, not.


Excerpts from Biografia Militaria by Sadek Mohammed