top of page


Hugh Martin


M16A2 Assault Rifle

Some days I clean the rifle so it shines,
a cold slice of darkness in grease-stained hands.
Some days, I hate to take it outside, dust
blowing faster, eating the morning brown.
Some days, after the warm silhouettes bow
across the green field of the firing range,
I sit against sandbags, sweat in sunlight,
and hold that grip, the muzzle's edge resting
across the top of my thigh. And some days,
when I've cleaned it for hours, I want only
to take it home for the space of blue wall 
above the mantel, because it'd be wrong 
to shoot again, to smear and smudge with whorls, 
to blemish a thing that makes the night blush.

The First Engagement

You run with the others over gravel, looking up
at the dirt-berm wall that surrounds your home, FOB Cobra, 
and you climb to the edge that ends against sky.
You push with boots, claw the loose dirt with one hand,
hold the rifle in the other as the terse pops


of warning shots go silent. At berm's edge,
beneath the crooked Kevlar cover, you peek to see
the hundreds of meters of mortar-beaten
land and then why you're there: a white truck moves 
down the broken asphalt road, orange sparks,


hundreds, splash from its tailgate-a vehicle-born
IED. It could be headed to the village, just north; 
it could be headed for the main gate. 
Inside the truck, the driver can't see 
or does not see or doesn't care to see:


you, the dozens of rifles, the Bradley's black 
cannon aimed to the windshield, the hood,
his own head, his passenger's head. 
You steady your rifle 
atop the berm, and first, the Bradley fires,


its orange tracers, almost gentle, weightless 
as they fly to meet the truck's grill; the platoon follows: 
down the line, they fire together. You aim. Your first shot. 
But the truck slows. When you adjust, your foot slips, 
you fall below the edge, unable to see. A lieutenant yells


cease-fire--silence. So this is it? 

No one knows the man 
was dragging rebar from the back of his truck; 
no one knows he was taking it to re-build his home; 
no one knows his son, the passenger, is shot in the arm;


no one knows the man is shot in the leg, the stomach. 
All you know: an hour ago, three mortars fell 
from the sky for you, this vehicle with sparks 
is for you, it's only day three and how many more 
until you can go. Steam rises


from the hood, the blown tires sag to the concrete, 
the rusted bumper hangs beneath shattered headlights, 
and from the space where a door used to be, 
the man falls to the road for you, for the Bradley, 
for all the men, to show just how you've done. 


The Stick Soldiers

                                To soldiers, I hope the war is fine.
                                                    --Girl Scout Troop 472

The children have colored the cards, 
dated from December, 
with Christmas trees, piles of presents,
snowmen smiling, waving. Sara wants
a doll. Evan, a dog. Kyle promises
to pray for us.


Outside the hooch, we open mail, 
hundreds of letters 
from youth groups, scout troops,
classes of school children.


Kearns wants to write back, 
ask for pictures
of older sisters.


We tape our favorites to the door.
In blue crayon, a stick-figure soldier poses
as he's about to toss 
a black ball, 
fuse burning, 
at three other stick figures,
red cloth wrapped over faces, 
Iraki written
across stick chests.

In Jalula, the children draw us pictures, too.

In white chalk, on concrete walls,
a box-shaped Humvee with two antennae
rising like balloons from the hatch.
A stick-soldier holds a machine-gun;
he waves at us, 
us, in the Humvees.


Further down the wall, a stick-man holds 
an RPG 
aimed toward the Humvee,
the waving soldier's head-
what the children want for Christmas,
or what they just want.


-from The Stick Soldiers


BIO: Hugh Martin is originally from northeast Ohio and he spent six years in the Army National Guard and deployed to Iraq in 2004. His chapbook, So, How Was The War? (Kent State UP, 2010) was published by the Wick Poetry Center and his full-length collection, The Stick Soldiers, was published through BOA Editions in March 2013. He is the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, the winner of the 11th annual A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize from BOA Editions, Ltd., and the winner of the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award from The Iowa Review. His poems have appeared in journals such as The Kenyon Review, The American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, and The New Republic. Martin graduated from Muskingum University and has an MFA from Arizona State. Currently he is the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.

bottom of page