Tuesday Poem

A Veteran is Surprised by Militarization

We came down from the Chiricahua Mountains,
went even closer to the border, hiked rocky
hillsides off-road, spotted a five-striped sparrow,
so fine, yet overshadowed by the rotor noise
of the sporadic helicopter overhead. Our guide
said to hold up our binoculars, let them know
we were only birdwatchers, and we complied,
having already passed trucks stopped in the desert,
unloading ATVs that armed and armored men
rode off. Earlier, I’d asked about the tethered
gray dirigibles in the otherwise cloudless sky,
was told they were platforms for surveillance.
Overseas for decades, much of it in conflict
areas, I’d never seen such heavy arms, such war
materiel in my country, not outside military
bases. The border sun was bright, our pace
slow, but still, I had to close my eyes, breath
caught with twinges of fear and vertigo, darkness
in waves like a mirage, waves of sparrows fallen
by vertiginous plunge or slow slump, in the desert,
unseen by any person, me among them.

by Sandra Gustin
from The Poetry Foundation