Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


by Rick Gray

“Obama to Pentagon: Plan for ‘zero option’ in Afghanistan” --Aljazeera America headline, February 25, 2014

Doesn't include my friend Daryl, or my student Zohra,
or that guy at the end of the hall
with the ponytail and the funny shoes.

It doesn't include my class this afternoon
when we will attack the final act
of Romeo and Juliet.

It doesn't include the scruffy kid on the corner
who sells stolen tangerines next to a muddy white horse
or his circling gang selling chewing gum made in Saudi Arabia.

It doesn't include the butcher over there slitting that sheep's throat
or the sound of the man's boots pacing the roof above me with a gun
or my secret escape plans through the School for the Blind.

Come to think of it, the zero option
doesn't even include me, or anyone I really know,
or anything any of us have ever done in our ordinary lives.

We are those whose lives have not
been calculated into the numerical system
of my nation's Department of Defense.

And when our deaths come, as they must,
without flags or trumpets or Arlington,
some of us may still be in Afghanistan

where, with God's infinite mercy,
the streets will be undefined with blast walls or barbed wires
and the uncounted will stroll with minds as empty of war or worry as zeros.

Rick Gray has work currently appearing in Salamander and has an essay forthcoming in the book, Neither Here Nor There: An Anthology of Reverse Culture Shock. He served in the Peace Corps in Kenya and teaches in Kabul, Afghanistan.