Improvised Explosive Device

By Liam Corley

“[Y]ou go to war with the army you have.”

                                     —Donald Rumsfeld

The serpent line winding through the plank-floored
warehouse of the marsh-aired Ft. Jackson distribution center
got me so pissed that I smacked my fist
into ceramic plate and hissed sotto voce,
“There’s got to be a better fucking way.”
Civilians every few yards supervised bins
overflowing with stained armor parts: chest plate, back
plate, groin shield, side panel, shoulder wrap, knee and elbow pads
in small, medium, large, extra-large, and a barely molded
female version to cause a little less pain in the breast.
Our parts came from at least a dozen soldiers
whose armor had returned from deployments before ours.
On this black-flagged South Carolina day, glistening drills barked, “Hydrate,”
throughout the battle rattle hour we spent
fumbling with molle straps and half-exhausted
Velcro fittings on Kevlar compartments. Now I understood
the bake sales for Dragon Skin Armor requested by buddies
who claimed that Army IBA failed after only one shot.

In Kabul, every broken piece of gear we kept
in makeshift service was marked TAYH, the army you have.
The Taliban mastered making do with scrap
we’d given the mujahideen and materiél Iran began to smuggle in.

When dismembered Humvees lolling off a smoking curb hit primetime,
SeaBee welders busted out some heavy plate and a Pentagon
logistics guy coined a magic phrase because it mostly worked:
“up-armored” trucks were all the rage no matter what the prefix said
about the canvas doors we had at first.

I sit now with a writer who is blocked, and I think
Rumsfeld could have been our secretary of poetic
state. The Taliban are still kicking ass; even their ghazals
explode. Take up your pack, friend. All our MFAs
went to Iraq, and the rotator for Kandahar leaves tonight. Go to war
with the words you have. Magazines will come after.

Your Congress wants to hear about the war.

Complete this form. In order to compare,

you must count the way they did before. 

Every game needs stiffs to keep the score,

and you're the joe they tagged for ours. Don't swear

when Congress wants to hear about the war.

Scrubbing firefights is now your chore.

Bury ones where we shot first or you'll scare

the aides who count the way they did before.

Listing casualties by month makes more

of them than using weeks, and that's not fair

when Congress wants to hear about the war.

Green on blue is new, so just ignore

those dead when they don't fall in columns where

you're told to count the way they did before.

DC won't see what their money's gone for

without this form to show 'em that you care.

Your Congress wants to hear about the war,

but you? You count like those who've gone before.

Liam Corley began writing poetry after his 2008-2009 deployment to Afghanistan. He is a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, and he teaches literature as a civilian. Poetry helps him reassemble his shattered confidence in language. He alternates between open and closed forms in a choral firefight of sorts, seeking the discipline and freedom of true expression.

ONE WAR

By Liam Corley