Register Saturday | July 2 | 2022
Two poems. Illustration by Graeme Zirk.

Two poems.

New poetry from Benjamin Hertwig.

A poem is not Guantánamo Bay
(for Omar Khadr)

A poem is not the man who crushed mint leaves
into milk and offered you lentils while you watched
with rifle in hand.

It’s not the door you kicked open or the woman
whose face was uncovered, the fruit on her table,
the flap of skin, the white-throated, fluttering chicken.

It’s not the night you drove home drunk.
It’s not the diesel fuel and burning shit, the get some!
scrawled on plywood.

A poem is not a dream that refuses to stop, the man with
a hole in his foot, the Panjwai highway, the shards of Corolla,
the man with a hole in his foot. A poem is not guilt.

A poem is not a way out of a poem.

A poem isn’t even a decade later when you are not a soldier
and he is not in jail, when Guantánamo Bay is mostly
forgotten, when you meet for food at a local cafe.
It’s not the musk of yerba maté, the bowl
of rice and chickpeas you share.

A poem is not a way out of a poem, but the bowl before you is
a bowl, and the chickpeas cooked only minutes ago. The table is next
to a window. City trucks swath gravel off the street. A dog barks.
It’s slowly growing dark outside.

Baseball Bats

Watching your cousin smash toads
with a baseball bat was more like war
than anything that came after.

It wasn’t the gelatinous
mass or the baseball bat,
the overgrown field
or the smell of chlorophyll,
the slant of sun in your eyes.

It had something to do with the way
you stood and watched.
The way silence fell
from your mouth
into tall grass.

The way death surprises
and doesn’t.

The war when it finally came
wasn’t a war any more than you
were ten and smashing a toad
was smashing a toad.