I study a man’s mustached olive face.
a crosshaired ballistic loophole—three blocks.
He twitches—at the whips of ricochets.
His iris—brown— glossed over with white—I’m
dialed in with tension on the trigger.
As I adjust for wind from east to west
He peaked around the wrong corner—I fire.

The jolt and jar – shoulders to soles—recoil
Pinging ears ring a high pitched major C—
Exit wounds splash against the grainy, egg-
-shell, white-walled butcher shack. I create an
abstract realist Starry Night—garnet brown.
Swirled coagulate—puddled and sunbaked.
Creation from a gentle trigger squeeze.


Creation from a gentle trigger squeeze.
I killed a bird when I was twelve with a
shotgun. I had hunted with my dad, but
this was different; we were camping. I woke—
and snuck before the sun—and crawled out—in-
-to the Black Kettle grasslands and found a
bush near the Washita river. Leafless
trees silhouetting the pink and purple
sky as a breeze from the north cooled my face.

The Black Kettle plains’ grass shift. There was a
blue jay on a branch—dove on a fence—I
aimed my rifle and pictured blues and whites
feather down with the red splattered bark brown.
The canvased tree would moan with the wind, but
a quail came from hiding and I caught it
peaking from the brush on the path I crossed.


Peaking from the brush on the path I crossed
A camouflaged man loomed—carrying a
Dragunov sniper rifle—as he peered
through the scope—reticles illuminated
A triangle with ticks lined up on sergeant
Clark’s nape. He fired—Clark dropped. Yells. Medevacs.
Helicopters inbound—outbound—crimson
Coagulate in the sandy dirt. I—
Gazed at the sky blue—black smoke on Tigris
Screams shift to ringing ears and then silence.

Floaters in my eyes win the battle, I
see nothing—hear nothing. I feel nothing.
I am back at home, listening to the cicadas
singing in harmony from the peach trees.


Singing in harmony from the peach trees
a mother quail sleeks the shortgrass hills
rolling with the barbed wire—skirting horny toad
spitting blood, blinding the red ants in their
attempt to evade, but the invader turns to prey
by the heart-faced barn owl, still white in tanned summer.
She glides in the night, over the blacked out ponds—

red-brown when the sun’s up, the only green
where the water level once soaked my leathered brown boots
—while waiting for whitetail to sneak a drink—
Only to be drawn on with a .50
caliber black powder—like Clark, big buck
dropped, flopped, tried to run—slung blood on the grass
To lie down in brush—licking exit wound


To lie down in brush—licking exit wound
I am the ball bearings in the playdough
—C4—homemade explosives marked US.
I blast my way through flesh & armor—legs
arms—severing dreams of Iraqi boys
playing soccer in the Olympics or
in the dirt field across from the market,
where a woman wearing black walked past the
butcher, to the Shi’a mosque. She never
yelled Allah Akbar— flash first—Bam explosion
rusty nails, molted copper chunks, shrapnel.
Collateral victims of war started
squirming, sulking for refuge in shit like
the maggot larvae in the sewered streets


The maggot larvae in the sewered streets
all but had their final feast once the shots
ceased and the dust had settled—no more screams.
The ringing in my ears won’t fucking stop
the floaters in my eyes morph to the teen
boy I caught leaping across the rooftops.
To find his next ballistic loophole—to
steady his breath, to give his Shehada
To drop a big buck and help feed maggots.
I was steady first—my prayer was said. POW

The larvae evolved to flies—I turn green when
I realize they can leave this place. I’m stuck—
voluntarily forced to feed the white grubs
with my talent—a gentle trigger squeeze.


With my talent—a gentle trigger squeeze
JDAMs don’t have to drop from planes
on a missed target and fall on a house
crumbling on a family of ten—to create
a new generation of boys with guns
that want to kill Americans for God.

With my talent—a gentle trigger squeeze
dads can go home to kiss their newborn babes
and sleep between the dreams of mopping up parts
of suicide bombers or the dreams of
watching cranial chunks spray with Pinkmist.
I won’t sleep, I’ll talk this gun out of my mouth.
But first, I play the hunter of Clark’s killer—
I study a man’s mustached olive face.

item #13754

title: with a spotter kneeling, watching my back
form: sonnet crown
index: joshua barnett

Joshua Barnett is currently in his seventh year of transition from soldier to scholar. Formerly of the 172nd Stryker Brigade, he is now a graduate student at the University of Central Oklahoma, where he serves as Editor-in-Chief for New Plains Review. His editorials have appeared in The Vista and The Daily Oklahoman; his poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Whisky Shivers and Deadly Writer’s Patrol.