Crossing the Tigris, Book 1

Faces so pale, with wondrous eyes, very dear, gather closer

Draw close, but speak not.

from Ashes Of Soldiers

Walt Whitman

It’s New Year’s Eve and who do I have a date with? He’s a 5’ 4” Iraqi soldier who weighs all of 124 pounds. And who am I? I’m a 6’ 2”, 190 American Marine. I’m the few, the proud, the young, the dumb, the hung, the full of cum. It’s late and I’m kicking my feet into the sand as I walk to my post for guard duty. I’m kicking at the sand fleas and about to go on sentry duty with one. Fallujah, Fuckayoua, Fuckamea. I smile.

Who could ever love this shithole? Two of my buddies were just shot by sniper fire and I’m here to defend and protect the bastards who probably shot them. No one knows what it’s like to live with this pressure. Damn it, Jim! I’m a machine gunner not a doctor. I’m part of a quick-reaction team, not a sit-in-a-fucking- confined-space-with-some-foreigner who can’t even speak English type of guy. And New Year’s Eve means getting laid, not getting played.

To top it off, this is the first time that I have had to pull guard duty. You’d think that maybe they would give me a bit of training first. Train. Wait. Train. Wait. Now go do something that you weren’t trained to do, with someone that you don’t know or trust, in the wet, hairy armpit of the world. Happy New Year! (At the trial, another lance corporal testifies that he had pulled guard duty with the same Iraqi and had no problems. Let’s not talk about the trial yet.)

I’ve threatened suicide and been hospitalized. I’ve been accused of assault, disorderly conduct, trespassing and have been connected to drug stuff. But the Marines seemed glad to have me. What did they say, “We’re kind-of short of bodies.” I’m a body. And this body is standing on an elevated platform at the perimeter of the base. Bullet-made pockmarks surround me and I guess I’m waiting to get hit. And standing next to me is this stinking little flea who thinks that he is like me because he’s in a uniform and has a weapon. This is my weapon, this is my gun. Want to see my gun, you little fuck? Want to touch my gun, you little fuck? Careful, it might shoot off. I smile.

Hey, flea, get off the phone. Hey, flea, put out that cigarette. Hey, flea, get off the phone. Hey, flea, put out that cigarette. Hey, flea, get off the phone. Hey, flea, put out that cigarette. Hey, flea, get off the phone. Hey, flea, put out that cigarette. Hey, flea, get off the phone. Hey, flea, put out that cigarette. If I told him once, I told him ten times.

So, what is a fair fight any way? I stab him seventeen times. I cut him twenty-six times. I chop at him. I nearly sever his spine and chop off his nose. Once it starts, the smells change and evolve. I smell the sweat as he senses that I’m going to kill him.

Isn’t it interesting that sweat and sweet are almost spelled the same? Christ, he pisses himself and that mingles with the stew of odors. The smell of blood cuts through first like a spice and then like the main ingredient. Christ, he shits himself. Has he no dignity? Oh, yeah, people do that when they’re dead. Sweat, piss, blood, shit, but there are no flies on me and there are no bruises, not a mark. I’m a good fighter. Train and wait. Train and wait. Train and wait. React. Do your job. It’s just a job. Yeah, I like my job, but that’ll never come up at the trial.

I reach over and fire off the flea’s AK-47. This is my weapon, this is my gun. And your gun’s drained, buddy. Say bye bye to that little thing. It probably is the size of a pin. After all, the flea was a really little guy. But my story is going to be that he tried to kill me. First, he was obviously signaling a sniper with the cell phone and cigarette. When that failed, he attacked me and I swatted at him like the flea that he is, correction, was. So, all I have is my bayonet and I use it. Train, train, train. That’s my story. Bring on the trial. Oh, yeah, I was really scared. Does that count for anything? I plead not guilty.

Oh, well, I guess I’m guilty of negligent homicide. Doesn’t that mean that I didn’t do a good job? Train, train, train. Wait, wait, wait. I should take offense though because I was negligent of nothing. Up to eight years of confinement, a reduction in rank, forfeiture of pay, dishonorable discharge. Now that’s just crazy talk.


Caren, Brian and I have worked together for years but have not collaborated on a book project before. We’ve been talking about this particular project for years, haranguing one another to get to work on his or her part done. We’ve gotten together to make components that have sat on the shelf waiting for the final combination/culmination. We’ve sat on planes talking about this thing while flying off to Greece, England and Italy.

We make paper ever summer, usually with Lisa Beth Robinson, and we have gotten together to dye commercially made paper. When we dye paper, it looks like we are taking in laundry because we stretch lines across the backyard and hang the wet sheets of paper with clothespins. There can be a hundred sheets swaying in the breeze, dripping onto the lawn, and attracting the bees.

The paper used most commonly in this book is from a private stash of Barcham Green, which was purchased years ago and salted away for just the right project. There is something almost spiritual about working with this type of paper because of its history and role in art making. Collage elements have been gathered from around the world on our many trips. We’ve haggled in a Greek flea market, scoured for multiple copies of editionable items, and have embraced our packrat nature.

This is from the edition of 60.

Jeffrey Morin