Two Poems by Ben Weakley
The stalls burst with baskets of figs and dates, the / smell of kebab lamb and warm naan.
Sunday Morning: the Market in East Rashid
What are we to make of the single brown horse
carrying a slim and neat-bearded rider
bareback, his thighs gripping the animal’s flanks
firmly, sandals slapping his heels with every stride, as
the horse gallops through the dust
of a market at midday?
The stalls burst with baskets of figs and dates, the
smell of kebab lamb and warm naan.
Beside the road runs the canal
where we found the Sunni cab driver
beneath a tattered blanket,
swollen, skin-flayed and skull-hammered.
Gray-matter the color of concrete spilled
across the ground, the ribs splayed open
as we interrupted a pack of stray dogs
consumed by their gnawing.
I think of the other horse
we found here the summer before,
bursting with maggots and blowflies,
and I am lost
on the other side of memory
trying to hold on to something that has no shape
when today’s horse and rider disappear
into an alley behind the stalls
the ground around us erupts
when the rockets begin to land.
Ode To a Scar
Pale pink skin,
one inch long by one-and-a-half wide,
sunken into the gutter between shinbones.
Jagged bowl of hairless flesh.
My war-wound began as a scrape
when I fell into an open sewer
hole beside an elementary school
in Baghdad. I walked right past the glowing
chemical light sticks
that were placed just so on the ground
to prevent this moment –
the lieutenant, charging ahead
into the two-dimensional tunnel
of monochrome green
in his night vision
before disappearing, waist-deep
in a real shithole, hanging
by plates of body armor.
The soldiers of second platoon
raced to the phones, sacrificing
hot chow and warm showers after mission
to be the first to call home, laughing.
Day after day, the scrape oozed red-brown
into my pants leg
during the long patrols of November.
I carried the dirt
beneath my skin for months.
Antibiotics did nothing. All winter
we bathed in flames, the scent
of burning tires soaked in jet fuel.
We breathed the black fumes
from burning vegetation,
clearing fields of fire
for the infantry. The particles entered our pores,
our eyes, our tongues, the tiny air sacs in the
deepest parts of our lungs,
pieces of war that traveled home inside us
like dust tucked in the creases
of old uniforms, like the infection
that lived in my leg
for so long after we returned.
My wound is healed now.
Another thing I carried home.
But it is not gone.
You can still see the dark-ringed scar
above my socks. Not the original
skin, but flesh
transformed. Still there but hardened.
A memory no longer open or weeping.
✽ ✽ ✽
Ben Weakley spent fourteen years in the U.S. Army, beginning with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and finishing at a desk inside the Pentagon. His work appears in the anthology, "Our Best War Stories" by Middle West Press. Other poems appear in Wrath-Bearing Tree, Black Moon Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, and Vita Brevis, among other publications. His poetry won first prize in the 2021 Col. Darron L. Wright Memorial Writing Awards and first place in the 2019 Heroes’ Voices National Poetry Contest. Ben lives in Northeast Tennessee with his wife, their children, and a red-tick hound named Camo.