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poetry Frisking Two Men in Sadiyah

Hugh Martin’s poetry captures the interior agonies of US soldiers at war in Iraq.

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Frisking Two Men in Sadiyah

By Hugh Martin

Kenson says to search them

since they’ve watched us all day

from a doorway. I go down

to the dirt on one knee, begin

where the thin beige dishdasha


grazes the ankle. My palms

then fingers climb as if the leg’s

a rope. Kenson points his rifle;

mine’s slung across his back.

This man, maybe sixty,

doesn’t take his hazel eyes

off my face & as I reach where

my right knuckles brush

the scrotum’s loose weight, he doesn’t

blink. I frisk the other leg, stand—

forehead level with his gray stubble chin,

his smoky breath. I pat the torso,

pat the outstretched armpits, pat

the breast-pocket’s cigarette pack,

then lean into what looks like a hug,

slide hands down his back,

my vest’s six magazines press

his stomach. He sees through

the black ballistic glasses I wear—

all of us wear—for explosions,

for sunlight, & as I squeeze

both arms through his sleeves,

I think he’ll be the one,

after hundreds, to spit gently

on my cheek. I tilt my head.

A few feet behind: Kenson—

just to see he’s there. When I step away,

the man studies my face as if

to put it all to memory. All

I want: to grab my rifle from Kenson,

but the other man steps forward,

lifts his arms, & waits for my hands to begin.

Hugh Martin is a veteran of the Iraq War and the author of In Country (BOA Editions, 2018) and The Stick Soldiers (BOA Editions, 2013). He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, a Yaddo Fellowship, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship. He was the 2014-15 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College and he’s currently completing a Ph.D. at Ohio University.