Aaron Graham

BLOOD STRIPES, THE AMBUSH, AND OTHER NIGHTMARES

If there’s something in the milk then
the milk ain’t clean and you are standing in ruins.
My boot on grass won’t grow roots--
Boot in sand
erodes foot-flesh
so when spirits hits boot—
its already home.
Home is an intersection
of joy and pain
so boots gotta run—
like Whitehouse paint.

When I stand in ruins—praise God
that I cannot tell a difference
between the weeping and the meaning
between keening and exaltation
that teaches me reality.
I wanna see scars that say:

       there’s pain in this scar
       a picture of suffering sorrow in this scar
       a promise of hope in this scar

I think those children
from Ramadi,
who can't be trusted
with the liability
of full stomachs,
had best be getting
home now.

The little boy form Jaffa—
who’s broken arm I set—
he didn't know
his name.
All he knew—
the family
once murdered
grew green
stalks,
meaty eyes,
and lived in
the flowers
returning as buds
as bulbs and tubers
in the earth—
queens of fire
and isolation
blossoming year round—
sempiternal, blooming death.

One time
I seen an Iraqi kid bleed
through five shirts when
I couldn't pray loud enough
in Latin or Arabic to make
his blood stop then limply left
his body, bled out in the sands--
I realize I'm bawling,
staggering around blur-eyed
and don’t know where my rifle is.

I don't really believe
in preventative medicine—
yearly checkups, crushed
up herbs, rabbits
feet, chicken bones
and going to church.
Not cause I don’t believe
in God. Cause I don't believe
in too much
preemptive fucking around.
I believe In battlefield medicine—
artery clamps, quick
clot, and syringes dripping
with morphine.
I believe my life used to be
a lot more clean—
single-razor-blade-shaves
and edge-dressed cloraframs
black like burning forests

I wore blood stripes
down each leg like
blood trails the leg
paths through the sand
from where the EFPs
hit to where
we dragged, and then
dropped Dills—
his lance corporal chevrons
glinting with dying sun.

After plasma transfusions
from navy docs,
out processing papers
and S-3 shops, pain
pill bottles, and fentyl lollipops
I still remember the quick clot
is for the artery
when the bleeding
doesn't stop

Is for when I reach the point
where I’ve left enough of myself
on the pillow
that I can actually fall asleep.

Author Portrait

Aaron Graham hails from Glenrock, Wyoming, population 1159, which boasts seven bars, six churches, a single 4-way stop sign and no stoplights. He served as the assistant editor for the Squaw Valley Review, is an alumnus of Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and The Ashbury Home School (Hudson), and was recently the Cecilia Baker Memorial Visiting Scholar for the 2016 Seaside Writer's Conference. Aaron is a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where he served with The Marine Corps' Human Intelligence and Counterterrorism Task Force Middle East as an analyst and linguist. His work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Print Oriented Bastards, SAND, The Tishman Review, The East Bay Review, Zero-Dark-Thirty, and f(r)iction, His poems have been finalists in the Tishman Review's 2015 Poetry Contest, Tethered by Letters' 2016 Poetry Contest, Sequestrum's New Writer Awards, and was a national finalist for The Luminaire Award. His chapbook Skyping from a Combat Zone was Shortlisted for Tupelo Press’s 2016 Sunken Garden Prize. His first full length collection, Blood Stripes, was a finalist for Tupelo's 2015 Berkshire Poetry Prize, and his poem, "Olfaction," won the Seven Hills Literary Journal's Penumbra Poetry Prize. Aaron is currently finishing his PhD in Literature at Emory University.