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Trash Bag Conversion

by Chad Pettit

On a Sunday afternoon drive with my family
I stop the car in the middle of the road.
My wife panics, asks what’s the matter?
On the side of the road sits a trash bag.
It’s just plastic, but I can smell smoke
and hear the squelch of a radio.

“Report.”

The other drivers pass me, heads shaking.
I sit paralyzed, white-knuckling the steering wheel,
foot trembling on the brake pedal.
My wife tells me to breathe, but I’m
hypnotized by a wire that isn’t there.
My boots heel-to-toe step on mortar-shelled roads.

The radio on my shoulder demands a report.

Do I hear the choppers hovering? Hovering overhead? No.
No support this mission.
I spot mud huts and trash pile homes on the road
to the landfill city as I
figure-eight–scan freshly paved
American roads.

“Sitrep, over.”

My wife says it’s a trash bag, tells me to drive.
My heart beats to the rhythm of incoming,
and the boom of outgoing
steals my breath.
I see starving men with zip-tie bound wrists,
and sandbags covering their heads on highways of rubble.

“All clear, nothing to report, over.”

I look for the rifle they took away,
replaced with a gear shift.
I push my sunglasses up my sweating face,
take my wife’s hand, waiting in my lap
and drive past the trash bag slowly
without blinking.

Chad Pettit served in the Army Infantry for ten years, including two combat tours to Iraq. He teaches high school English and has a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University-Central Texas. He lives with his wife and four children in Copperas Cove, TX. His poems have appeared in The Lookout and The Anuran.

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