Ali Al Salem
by David Grundy

Quiet, dozing desert fortress
clings and blends to the curves of the sand
Gateway, respite, demobilization city

A place of ease and lethargy
As we wait here between the worlds

Every day here is Sunday
Subdued troops move slowly between the tents
They avoid eye contact or look at each other
with small, shy, sudden smiles

Here there is time to rest, to forget
Troops and officers sleep through
the long afternoons without a care
as the shadows lengthen
and the tent sides move gently in the wind

Here there is time to think
under the dappled sunlight
filtering through the cammo netting
tame little desert cat sleeping
curled up against my knee

Here there are stunned expressions
on young sunburned faces
The pregnant soldiers
sitting alone in the chow hall
The Marine on emergency leave
"I can't believe it's not a joke, man
I wish I were back in Iraq
and my brother were still alive..."

But the joys aren't quite real here yet
and neither are the sorrows
In this moment of our time apart, together

We linger over coffee
doing laundry, over cards
The breeze gently moves the date palms overhead
brings snatches of music - Elton John's "Rocket Man"
as the helicopters come and go on the horizon

Voices are hushed and muted here
"See you in Amsterdam, brother"
"See you in Chicago"
"See you back in Ramadi"
"See you later man, I'll see you..."

"...and I think it's gonna be
a long, long time..."

The wind off the western desert is cool today
but it brings with it the mingled scents
of salt, of clay, and of iron

Copyright © 2006 - David Grundy
Published: 12/7/06   ·  Author's Page   ·  Next Poem