Awareness

 

by Ben Kline

 

That August we traveled east in our maroon ‘86 Caprice wagon with the backward backseat,

making too many stops at lookalike scenic views and tchotchke shops along the Skyline Drive,

 

when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and Dick Cheney betrayed us the fourth or fifth time.

We bothered counting then, before the new American century was upon us like neo-con locusts,

 

when gas yet hovered under a buck fifty and voguing was way mainstream yet still very queer

by motions so loose they defied macho statute. We watched high tech American-made tanks

 

cross wavy beige desert under black billow skies on 16” hotel televisions. Back home we did not

have cable TV. We watched Tom Brokaw and disliked Dan Rather. I did not lust for Arthur Kent

 

or see Herbert Walker vomit in Japan. I read Updike, McInerney and Oates. I memorized old maps

curling between rosaries hung over roofing nails on my grandmother’s mauve parlor wall.

 

That October we were baling soybean stubble in the far west fields while many of my former

classmates prepared to deploy. They had enlisted to escape working coal, timber, part-time retail or

 

fast food. Many worked third shift at Food Lion off the interstate where we parked our parents’ trucks

on Saturdays, blasting Depeche Mode, Garth Brooks and NWA. Saddam did not seem to see it coming.

 

Neither did those guys after all the no-name inoculations and uranium weapons. They all died

years before Y2K and dodged the microwave sea we still call sky. They died despite sins confessed

 

years after at football games, lumps protruding from their skulls as they described a sunless desert

of mangled bodies covering the sand, black plumes transforming the horizon into a wall through which

 

they could not see and did not wish to cross. They feared sleep. They asked for blowjobs by the strip mine

waste lake in the back of their little sisters’ Chevettes. Their cum tasted like peroxide and stained upholstery.

 

By December sleeping trees revealed snow on the limestone, and fearing what I did not know,

I sought new knowledge. The H volume contained only facts, few hints and sporadic truths.

 

I took up my pens and wrote stories about hillbilly secrets and skyline dreams. From my desk, I cut

trees obstructing my view. A writing scholarship paid for freshmen year. FAFSA was a four letter word.

 

I did not want to fly over Kuwait. I kept my A’s straight and worked three jobs. Those dead boys cried

when they came, reminded by the scent of their acidic sweat that they lacked enough hate to reconsider love.