James Himelsbach
First We Must Cross the Desert

Leave a bootprint reminder
outside the barracks, Twentynine Palms, the Mojave,

then take a giant step toward Babylon.
Make no mistake,

the world is flat after all. A thin stream of acrid smoke
scrolls the latest headlines across a cloudless sky.

North, gas flares from unattended oil wells
trigger another mirage.

Through the scope, the enemy is quartered.
From a thousand meters, a pink boutonnière
blossoms in the center of the chest.

Didn't the brochures
promise us nights in a forbidden city,

treasures unearthed hourly?
Ah, yes...but that was before the looters

pried the emeralds out of the Caliph's eyes
& torched The Ministry of Ancient Artifacts.

We can whip
ourselves into a roadside frenzy

& whirl around
the carbonized carcass of a Humvee,

seared flesh
stuck fast to the steering wheel.

I thought my life was fireproof.
Now my fingers reek of gasoline.

Was that me striding through the wide aisles
of raw lumber at The Home Depot,

Ridgewood, W. Virginia?
No, I am the Iman spouting suras at the local oasis:

Surely, the tree of the zaqqum is the food
of the sinful.

I'll hunker down behind this sand dune
& hallucinate the rest of history, summon ordnance

from the Indian Ocean,
& redraw the maps by morning.

What's the theory here? Ask the undertaker
as he pokes through the ruins

with his tightly rolled black umbrella.
Who will be left to call to evening prayer?

Only the media keep score,
camcorders implanted

in every retina. So many
sequels already in the works. I am desperate to press on,

squeeze through the Karbala Gap,
but I keep getting blown back

centuries to the banks of the Euphrates
where the fifty day wind

messengers airborne succulents
to prickle my sleep.

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