POEM: The Radioactive Desert


The Radioactive Desert

© 2011 by Sherwood Ross


Come! It is past time to start!
You and I will lead the procession

Up the slope of the last passable road remaining
Out of here, out of this depression.


We will wrap our cloaks against the night,
Against this Arabian cold, this angst. How
The fools, clowns, generals, and jesters
Will follow where we lead. Once we arrive


There’ll be time enough for their explaining.
On to the irradiated desert of the Earth!
To the thousand-mile-wide rivers of sand
Rivers that have no banks


Rivers whose only vessels are
Rusted armored cars and eviscerated tanks,
Rivers whose only travelers are
The bleached white bones of their military drivers


Drivers who died in their crawling coffins
Whose deaths left their wives’  widows
And their children orphans.
Drivers who drowned in the rivers of sand


Rivers whose water has long turned to dust
Red and brown as the surface of Mars
Rivers whose gas flares spurt skyward
In this black night like distant stars.


Rivers that water no crops
Rivers robbed of all fruition
Rivers of the invisible death from radioactive ammunition.
Never have the hospitals of Baghdad known such grief


Death has stolen the hearts of their children,
Death, our god, our viceroy, and our thief.
Infants, stillborn, grotesque and deformed,
Infants born dead with only one eye


With internal organs hanging out
Or with faces of disfigured features
Or with half empty skulls. See them in
The Jawad Al-Ali hospital in Basra, or


Visit the VA hospitals in Mississippi
Where war veterans’ children are born deformed
From radioactive ammunition their fathers fired in Iraq.
Such was our victory; such is our disgrace.


We who are hollow
We who found an ancient civilization and despoiled it
We who defiled it, we who poisoned its waters and its skies
We who sacked it in a war built on lies


We who sicken its people for millenniums to come
Let us go forward and make our confession.
Come! You and I will lead the procession.

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