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Two Poems by Ben Weakley

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.

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