Saturday, 16 June 2007

American Sniper

A Poem By Darryl Mason


"Kill one man, terrorise a thousand"
the instructor had pointed to the sign
on the wall at the school where I learned to kill
Camp Pendleton, California
it didn't have a fancy name, this school
like 'tactical depopulation training'
we called it what it was
Sniper School
three months training
then they sent me here

"Kill one man, terrorise a thousand"
he smiled when he read the sign to me
my scores were good
he told me he was proud of me
never heard a man say that to me before
I see him now still tapping that sign
to a roomful of kids who are now
mostly dead
or wounded

"Kill one man, terrorize a thousand"
That's what the sign said
So I learned it
and I loved it and now
I'm living it


a rooftop in Fallujah
came in by helicopter
Black Hawk at full crank
flying low enough to collect television aerials
others in my squad are on other buildings
on other rooftops
close by
we're alone here
not enough of us to go in pairs
not today, they said
you'll be okay
I know I'll be okay
I'm a fucking killing machine

we're alone
but we should be able to get each other out
if we have to
that's what they kept telling us on the way in
"we don't leave our boys behind"
if we need them
they'll come
they'll come and take us home

I look at my watch and work out the time
it's Saturday morning in America
mom will be making pancakes
I can remember the smell
I can imagine myself still in bed
at home
in bed, that warm breakfast smell
coming up the stairs and into my room
if I think about that smell long enough
I can taste those pancakes


I waited five hours before I did anything
to stir them from their homes
waited for my orders
got them
did it
one man
a thousand terrified
they don't know where I am
the radio has gone silent
I wait here for them to tell me
what to do next

My rifle is a M40A3 bolt action
I already knew this rifle
long before I held it in my hands
for the first time
I've used it on sniper mission in Iraq before
even though this is my first tour
I played the video game the recruiter gave me
for free
I was just walking through the mall
"here, this is for you"
I took the game home
I played the game, a few thousand times
American Army
and I didn't stop playing it
until I learned all the weapons,
all the ambush scenarios,
all the escape scenarios,
all the sniper missions
I played the game
of being a sniper in Iraq
same gun, same place
but now it's for real

when I was playing the game I never felt
the hot electricity feeling
that I feel right now
that makes me feel so alive
but so tired
and when I played the game
I didn't feel the sand
that's inside my underwear
wearing away my skin
when I played the game
I didn't feel the sticky heat
or the cold sweat
that lives on us all now
like a second skin
it was only a game


they told me the enemy wears disguises
the terrorists
my commander told me they dress as women,
as children, as old men
"every fucking donkey cart
can transport weapons", he said
"every ambulance can transport insurgents
this is free fire"
but my orders for now are simple
if I don't like the look
of someone down there on the street
I can take them out
"Do they know they have to stay inside?"
I asked on the helo coming here,
to my rooftop in Fallujah
but nobody answered
"Just pick them off when you see them"
My CO said that
a direct order
I saw him before I fast roped down to my rooftop
he looked me straight in the eyes like
he knew he would never see me again
"God loves you," he said
and that was all
then I was out and heading


I remember last week
the blur of days
never enough sleep
boredom like a fog
we cleared the outer ring of
Falljuah streets
on foot
block by block
kick in every door
turn over every bed
empty every drawer
the women here have the best
underwear and lingerie
I've ever seen

last week :
our sound truck is parked a few blocks away
from where we foot patrol down another
ghost town alley
the sound truck is jacked
the super fat
opening riff
of AC/DC's 'Hell's Bells' blasts
through Fallujah back streets
and alleys full of dusty echoes
the first time I heard that riff
maybe an hour ago
I cheered and punched the sky
just like I did at the AC/DC gig
I saw when I was 14
dad took me for my birthday
but now Hell's Bells' is on again
solid wall of noise from the sound truck
14th time today I've heard it
and it doesn't sound right
the sound is supposed to scare the haji
but ain't they heard AC/DC before?
maybe they ain't heard it like this
this loud this fat this solid
I've never heard it like this before either
it's starting to make me feel
we did something to the sound
it was remixed by psy-ops
to really fuck with them
get inside their heads
scramble their brains
but we didn't have enough ear plugs
so I missed out
don't matter anyway, that noise
gets into your bones
and your bowels
it lives inside you
like a virus

A few dozen Saturday mornings ago
back home
I sat in my room and played that AC/DC riff
on my guitar
until my mum yelled at me to quit
I just turned it up louder

this sound makes you sick
it vibrates inside you
even when the sound cones aren't pointed
at you, it still gets you
it goes through the walls
some guy back at the base calls the sound truck
"The Shitinator"
if they really crank that fucker up
you just might crap yourself to death

it's not funny now
Angus' guitar gongs inside my skull
and the words of 'Hell's Bells'
mean something different
there's a line, a lyric
I just heard it again
"you're only young but
you're gonna die"
we play it to scare the haji
but it scares us, too
motherfucker change the fucking tune


my family had a farm for 150 years
we fought in wars
then we farmed the land
then we fought in wars
my father took me back to our farm once,
after we sold it to pay his health care bills
we went back to see the land
that used to be ours
he took me into the north field
and we cut our thumbs
like his dad had done with him
and his grandad had done
with his grandad
thumbs bleeding, we let the scarlet
dripping into the dirt
purple mud
we let our thumbs drip
so our blood would stay in the soil
even if we weren't there to farm it anymore
"you leave your memory here now"
my dad said
"blood and earth,
always reunite"

Go Here For Part Two Of 'American Sniper'

Darryl Mason is also the author of the free online novel ED Day : Dead Sydney. You can read it here