A Habit from Tikrit + Fleeing Never-Pleasure Island

Gordon Kippola

A Habit from Tikrit

My war was softer than the infantry’s,
but patriotic terrorists fired rockets
at our FOB most days. Insurgent assholes
would have blown my limbs off happily,
or sent my now-ex-wife a jigsaw pile.
Within a month I think, fuck the dead
hadjis in all their meaningless numbers.

Two-thousand and four, in northern Iraq,
ten-dozen Big Red One soldiers are killed,
including a few prescient suicides.
I salute the dog-tags, boots and helmets
of new-slain kids, times six. Fifteen years—
I thought by now, for sure, I’d care again
when human beings die. Turns out I can’t.

Fleeing Never-Pleasure Island

No matter where I’m living at the time—Texas
New York, Iraq—when I walk beside the road,
the same boy screams at me from passing cars.

Who and what are you, boy? Why do you shout
from yellow Hyundais, rusting Dodge Chargers,
boxy Audi Foxes: all these identical stealthy cars

your faceless buddies drive? Do you shadow me
because I’m lost? Has a life of criminal intent
put you on my tail? Maybe you’re not my Javert,

a vengeful ghost, or Satan come to claim my soul.
Maybe you’re Peter Pan, reminding me to crow;
or Jiminy Cricket, helping me become

a real boy. Doppler effect shrieks hammer me
into flight or fight. My knees are too creaky
to run from teenagers in cars. I never learned

to fight, but I was large enough an animal
to give attackers pause. Age fragiles my bones,
robs my muscle mass: age has made me prey.

I wrap a paring knife inside a paper towel
and hide it in my pocket while I walk.

Following a career as a US Army musician, Gordon Kippola earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa, and calls Bremerton, Washington home. He serves as a reader for The Los Angeles Review. His poetry has appeared in District Lit, The Road Not Taken, The Main Street Rag, Slant: A Journal of Poetry, Southeast Missouri State University Press, and other splendid publications. One of his poems was selected for the World Enough Writers Coffee Poems Anthology, one was a 2020 Rattle Poetry Prize finalist.

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