Home from Iraq, Barking Spider Tavern

by Hugh Martin
Martin. The Stick Soldiers. Home from Iraq, Barking Spider Tavern
—Cleveland, Ohio Outside on the smoker's patio, the Army vet shakes my hand for the twentieth time, yells about loyalty, country, duty. Between gulps, he explains his shame for missing the Storm— a bum knee, ten thousand beers later, and now, another war to miss. We finish the cans, throw them at a wall, crack new ones. The summer sweat sticks to his face and in his eyes is the horror of not going, that he'd live all his life having to say no, blaming a bum knee, hitting it hard with a palm to punish it. He shakes my hand again, grabs my shoulder, and then seems to want to kiss me, suck out whatever was left since he wanted to taste it so badly.