Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the enigmatic figure at the center of the worst American war crime in recent memory, admitted for the first time on Wednesday deliberately killing 16 Afghan civilians last year, most of them women and children . . . Critics of America’s decade of conflict in the region . . . seized on the stresses experienced in the war by soldiers like Sergeant Bales . . . --NY Times, June 5, 2013
It’s Late. Night hangs heavy in Kandahar Province. Scorpions. Wood lice. A Mantis prays. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales injects his nightly dose of anabolic steroids, buckles up his gear.
Four tours in ten years. No time to reminisce, no time to dream. He’s careful to climb down the ladder reserved especially for him. At the bottom is the pit, Dung Beetles scurry. His head throbs.
You’ve seen your buddies’ shredded bodies baking in the desert sun, babies dangling dead from barbed wire, a woman blown to clots & bone by the bomb she’d wrapped around her waist.
The medic’s say PTSD – The lawyers say, booze & drugs. Tonight, Robert dreams mayhem: Spirits of the brave & lost will cross the devil’s river – He’s locked & loaded . . .
Night goggles & high octane Wild Turkey 101. My enemies are everywhere: In their tents, behind their walls, in their gardens & in their beds. They babble in tongues, sneer & wail.
I need silence to think. My throat chokes on our renegade soup. There’s nothing to be done. Extermination. I am the champion of justice, the avenger & the priest. Locked & loaded.
Bless me father for I . . . I am a missile unleashed & proud, a drone in desert camouflage. I’ve been sent to redeem my country’s honor. I am without home, without mercy, without guilt.
Pray for me as I kneel in the sand & light my torch. Nothing is left of me. I am slag. I am heroic. I am disaster. See me for what I am, what I have been trained to be. I am a machine.
Running on fumes. Nothing matters. The mission is at hand. How many must die? & why? I am marked. Absurd. Without guile. A bomb. Fused. As intended. Poison. Catastrophe.
Collateral damage . . . It is – I am – What must be known – What must be expected.
Roger Aplon was born in Chicago and was a founder & editor of Chicago’s CHOICE Magazine with John Logan and Aaron Siskind. He’s published one collection of short stories, Intimacies, and nine collections of poetry, most recently It’s Only TV.