I’ve thought of you so often for these past seventeen years,
Wondering where you are.
Are you in Heaven or hell?
Are you dead as I think you are,
Or are you alive,
The fruits of someone else’s unselfish humanity?
If you’re alive, then it wasn’t me who saved you.
I walked away, but could I explain?
You see on inland Highway 80 to Basra,
We walked that entire sixty mile length of ruin.
We were the fourth or fifth group there
After US and coalition forces dropped every available cluster
And 500 pound bomb they could access
On the defenseless, retreating throngs of withdrawing Iraqi troops
As well as Palestinian and Bedouin citizens.
It was February 26th
And had I known you were so close,
I have to say that I might have done anything
To not see you in that state.
So broken and scared;
You were so small and helpless when someone like me
Who could have helped found you.
I pulled a bandanna over my mouth and nose
As we quietly walked through the maze
Of broken metal and flesh.
Doing our jobs; we looked past the dead, vacant eyes
And searched for equipment,
But we found only the death,
And to a degree that is unimaginable.
Some vehicles were melted into the ground
While others remained basically intact,
Wheels turned in the direction of the road
And radios playing a fading mixture
Of static and foreign conversation.
Some of the dead were reduced
To completely charred skeletons
While others next to them were riddled
With 50 cal rounds
Big enough to punch holes in tanks.
I can’t recall what time it was,
But it was dark;
It was late at night when the bombs had fallen,
And by the time we followed the red rays of sunlight
To the massacre in the wee hours of the 27th,
There was little left but the charred remains
Of thousands of people.
The odor that weighed so heavily in the air
Gagged me as I looked into the incinerated vehicles
To see bodies frozen there in the last pose
They would take in life or death.
Was one of them your father?
We walked on, doing our jobs,
The vehicles began to thin and ebb away.
The stench too was beginning to fade away,
I’d thought that we were out of the worst of it,
Until I met you that is.
It was my turn to walk point,
And as we veered off the road
Into the desert toward Basra,
The ground had begun to flatten and level out.
Still, when I approached the small burm
I dropped to my knees as I was so familiar with doing,
And then to my stomach,
I stretched my neck
Over the top edge of the little hill that you hid behind,
But I didn’t see you.
I saw nothing but irresolute, endless desert,
So I waved my comrades forward as I stood.
Brushing the sand and dirt from my combat clothing,
I stepped confidently over the small hill
And that’s [did I step on you?]
Where I met you. I heard,
Perhaps you were asking for help?
The oil fires had caked your face thick with black, oily soot
Your blatant tears streaked through the oil resolutely.
My eyes were frozen unblinking as they trailed down your frail body.
Was your hand broken?
One of your arms lay limp by your side,
And you reached out toward me with the other.
Did you want me to hold your hand
Because you knew you were dying?
I did nothing though and how I wish I had simply held your hand
While you chased your last breaths. I heard,
Were you trying to tell me something?
Were you frightened?
Still, I stared at you as if you were a novelty,
And I said nothing; I did nothing. I heard,
داعيا الله لي
You were calling your god…Allah weren’t you?
Is that his name?
Is he the same as my God?
Were you asking him why I wasn’t listening?
Why I wasn’t helping?
What did he tell you?
Somewhere far away I could hear the pounding
Of Patriot missiles as they volleyed toward some rogue scud,
And still my eyes remained fixed on your body
And I realized that your tiny legs were missing.
You had no knees and one leg was missing up to the thigh,
While the other was a bit longer.
Whatever took them had cauterized your stumps,
And ironically, prolonged your suffering.
Where were they?
I looked around and could see nothing.
Had you lost them somewhere else?
If so, then how did you get here?
Where were your parents?
Did they know you were alive
Or had they thought you dead,
And inadvertently abandoned you? I heard,
The Sergeant had appeared magically at my left elbow,
He stood staring at you alongside me.
I wonder if he was thinking the same things
I thought then and still think of today. I heard,
“Shoot him. Put him out of his misery.”
I couldn’t shoot you.
I couldn’t look into your sad, hopeless eyes
And then pull the trigger of my M16 A1 rifle,
Propelling a lightening fast 5.56 millimeter ball
Into your already short-circuiting brain
In that split second after his order,
I knew that I couldn’t do it and I turned to him
I told him no and walked away without another look back.
Can’t you see that I was scared?
I was surprised when I stepped off the burm and discovered you there.
I think I didn’t even believe what I was seeing
Until the others arrived next to me and saw you too.
Then I believed it. Then I felt it too.
I felt your legs hurting…missing
I felt your little pudgy arm swollen and throbbing.
I could sense the desperate loneliness in your heart
As you lay there wondering if someone would help you
Or if you would lay there until your tiny body relented
To the desert and its host of scorpions.
Can’t you see that I was so very mortified by what I was seeing
That I froze and didn’t know what to do?
I lived by structure and at that very moment
I had no idea what to do with what my eyes, ears and nose were telling me.
If you can see that, if somehow,
You could put yourself in my boots that day and realize
Why I reacted the way that I did,
Then would it be possible for you to forgive me as well?
No, I didn’t put you there, but I didn’t take you away either.
I’ve thought so many times of how I could do things differently
If I had that blessed opportunity handed to me once more.
I could have picked you up.
I could have given you morphine for the pain
And taken you with me to an aid station or the hospital,
But I didn’t.
I could have done as I was told and shot you,
Ending your fear and pain immediately,
But I didn’t.
Most of all, I could have held your hand.
I could have grasped it with all the might and power
That Jesus might have given me,
And that power would have infused you with courage and light.
But I didn’t.
I didn't hold your hand, did I?
I didn’t do anything and now,
I’ve lost the chance to help you
I have lost so many years that I can now never get back.
Your face remains in the front of my mind at all times;
So much so that I feel as if you are an integral piece of me without whom,
I could not live.
I want so desperately for you to tell me now
That you forgive me for what I didn’t do.
Can you forgive me for not helping you?
For not speaking to you and possibly soothing you with my voice?
Can you find it in your beautiful, innocent, victimized heart
To forgive my ignorance and moral depravity?
I pray you can. I’ve never prayed for this before,
But now I realize that my every bone wants it…needs your forgiveness.
I have wanted to die for so long
And I think my punishment has been to live with your crying face
Etched behind my eyes for these many years.
If you’re alive, then you deserve to be so at least.
If you are dead, then I want to be dead too,
So that I can find you and hold your hand.
Please, forgive me?
All I needed was for you to help me.
What sort of human being are you
That you couldn’t take my hand
And help make me feel safe for only one moment?
It was your fault that I was there in the first place.
Yours and your whole damned countries.
What did it matter how I got there or where my parents were?
What sort of half-baked justification are you looking for
Simply because you couldn’t be the stronger person at that moment?
I mean really…I had no legs and one of my arms was broken,
And yet you couldn’t muster up the courage to hold me and calm me?
You’re supposed to be a soldier
And I knew the moment I saw you that I could be ok,
But then what did you do?
You walked up and trampled me just a little bit more through avoidance.
I’d thought you were a human being
That despite your allegiance to your country,
You would help me.
It didn’t matter to me that you were an American soldier,
Because all I needed was a soft voice.
As a woman you represented to me a shelter
From further harm from the moment I saw you approach.
But you were weak. You were nothing to me but a pathetic woman,
A despicable excuse for a soldier
A contemptible human being
Who let me lay there in the oily, baking sun to rot.
Think about it.
All we were trying to do was get out.
We took everything we owned and piled it on our cars,
And you Americans bombed the road on both ends
So that we couldn’t move.
It must have been like shooting fish in a barrel to you.
Once we were trapped, what did you do?
You cowards just kept on attacking us
While we tried so very hard to flee from our cars,
But most of us didn’t have a chance did we?
You all made certain of that.
And the ones of us who were simply shot or hurt like I was,
Well you all had to finish the job with your bombs didn’t you?
I was lucky to get out.
You should have seen everyone else!
I do not forgive you.
You have to take this one to your grave.