by James Martyn Joyce
The black man wielding the bottle of Tia Maria and the chocolates,
Padding to the checkout, is the full-stop that makes him look,
Makes him see the others:
Uniformed ants feeding through the shelves,
Aran sweaters and golfing hats clasped to their sand-brown chests,
Multiples of vodka clinking in their fists.
They bring the desert here, these young troops,
Camouflaged to blend into sand,
Melt behind baked brick walls,
Soundless on desert soles, eyes scanning as they move,
Through the aisles of alcohol, the rows of packaged gifts.
Shaven headed, they choose the normal,
The day-to-day, like returning from a holiday,
As if their tour was not of duty,
But two weeks lingering near girls they never got to know,
Or did, and were gravely disappointed.
Or lucky, maybe, like the mine exploding down the street,
Comrades like so much meat, dead,
Like the eyes of the Texan boy on the edge of his seat,
Bidding ‘good-day Sir’ to the man who accosted him
In some vain attempt to understand, and got called ‘sir’,
As if such mannered traits could lead to a better understanding,
But does not.
Or the thin girl by the souvenir rack,
Clutching a leprechaun for luck,
Her smile, wistful, praying a stuffed doll
Could bring back everything she’s lost,
All she saw justified by some salute,
Ignoring her own mother in the eyes of an Arab woman,
Crying out, calling death into the room,
The wounds cratering her son’s remains just cause.
Or the ones called Brad or Goose,
Hard men at the bar, talking whiskey, kills,
Cadavers lined up and swallowed down,
Bodies stacked with the Paddy and the Bells,
Their ghost-victims carpeting the room:
Sub-human in their facelessness,
Down there with the hogs,
Players, they shield the timbered bar and I sit
Lined-up at their feet, try to read departure times,
Avoid their burning stares.