Sergeant O’Donnell

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For Charles

In the photo
Your camouflaged face, green-brown,
a smile,
an AK47.
In one month,
in the bullet-pocked hospital,
you delivered eighty babies.
All dead.
And they called this a relief mission.
Who exactly were you relieving?

Now, years later,
you sit across from me
in a chic Woodstock restaurant
eating tiny rolled grape leaves,
drinking sparkling water
with lemon.
You remember the Thanksgiving
one of the other nurses
spent the whole day
sifting worms from the flour
with a rusty window screen
because for just one fucking day
you should have bread without worms .
When the waiter brings us warm
pita with hummus, I offer you some.
You turn it down.

The day you had to guard
the front gate of the hospital
from an attack,
back against the door
clip in your mouth,
your surgical mask still hanging under your chin,
you wondered if
you killed more than you ever saved
because you didn‘t save many.
For one moment, you look across
the table at me,
forget where you are
forget my name.

Tonight you will dream
of the last transport
leaving Mogadishu.
No matter how many times you
try to get on it
you never seem to be able
to leave.