You’re probably joking about your hairy legs
and the obscene numbers of days you’ve gone without
a shower, like the time you and Becky drove to L.A.,
then slept on the street just to get tickets to Leno.
Maybe you remember the summer nights, outside evil
ugly Debra Radak’s house at 3 a.m., pouring acid
into an empty 2-liter, adding strips of glinting tin foil,
rolled liked freakishly long cigarettes. We launched
the capped missile on to cross-eyed Debra
Radak’s lawn, then got the hell out of there.
When it still hadn’t exploded, seven block later,
you turned the car around when suddenly
our ears filled with the sound of air, liberated
from its plastic prison. We laughed because
Debra had spit on you; we christened our new
identities with acid: agents of corrosive justice.
How does the large-footed girl who served detention
for making cat and chicken noises in French
class become the humvee-repair person who speaks
five tongues, decodes mottled stains of language
on the western perimeter of a besieged Baghdad? I read
in today’s Times your friend died in a suicide
car bombing. I don’t know the right words to say
I’m sorry. I don’t know how to stop thinking
about his family, the man whose body exploded
through your friend’s, and I cannot condemn
that anatomy’s strange courage. But still I watch
for your face beamed through the sparse, dark air
from distant satellites, the picture as grainy and full
of reprieve as the bits of sand that populate the creases
in your never-long-enough letters, delivered sliced
open, expertly disembodied. If I were there,
you’d keep me awake to analyze the terrible ways
you were loved by men. Instead I dream
up ways to halt your progress. You are not my friend:
you are a numbered rifle who keeps cigarettes
beneath a helmet, except when you write letters,
bridging with disbelief. Holy Shit, James,
I invaded Iraq. But history needs more from us now.
I cannot embrace you between the bombs.