Human Terrain

— And in an instant, suddenly, you will be visited…with thunder and with earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. Isaiah 28:6

The proper translation
isn’t All is vanity though
such is found everywhere—
belief in hegemony among nations,
the necessity of imposing one’s hegemonic will,
or my neighbor manicuring his lawn,
a smell of fertilizer, herbicide,
permeating my clothes as it wafts through
the window: I can’t concentrate
even on the silliest TV; I think of stiff,
impregnated uniforms harder than starch
bulwark against VX, GB, HD, and laugh;
this neighbor bends over, stiffly, slowly,
presses a multitude of small signs
into the grass, signs required by law
warning “Danger, herbicide & pesticide
application: do not walk or play
on the lawn.” No, the proper translation
I’m told, explained by a studious seminarian
who almost took his vows but quit
choosing a secular life instead
reads All is pfff, a sound, like the last breath
of air pressed from a bicycle tube
as it’s compressed when removed from the rim,
the sound of everything, one time or another,
like the theory of everything, this the sound,
everything vanishing, pfff, the sound we’ve all heard
taking our breath away, present always,
background noise to the cosmos as evidenced
when the Religious Program Specialist—
what we used to call a Chaplain’s Assistant—
tells me of being on patrol, long hours
penetrating deeper, rocky ledges, portals
nothing but rock, the scarf and scree
treacherous as any promise made
by faithful and infidel alike, a soldier
stops, kneels and pfff, gone, vanished,
all ears ringing in the silent rain
of dust, blood dry as rock and sand,
as a pebble placed in the dry, cottony mouth
to cure a desiccated tongue
to allow speech but there is none
all vanished in the heat of vaporization
and he saw his Christian friend
disappear, an IED that could slash open
and gut a Humvee,
turned just at that moment
to see him kneel and pfff
nothing left because all is vanity
and what stays is the nothing that is there
and is not there, his face recedes, his name,
not even a replacement because time is short
and the mission, the prayer, pfff,
an image not an image staying
and staying because where else the scripture
that explains pfff . . . pfff . . . pfff.