by Jeffrey Murrell


Hi, buddy! You wouldn't believe
this place I've been sent to.
It's just the strangest country.
Have you been here, too?
It's where my family came from
generations ago.
And didn't yours also come
from this foreign home?
This city where I've been assigned
for the past eighteen months
is now of fantastic size,
not like it once was!
Smoky pagodas, needle sharp
minarets all rise up
towards the horizon as far
as solid ground runs,
as far as one can see, just like
hairs on a giant beast
where we are just parasites,
unknown little things.
While tourists and foreign soldiers
scout green cobblestone streets,
those who know the place for sure
walk the skyway beats--
a winding network of bridges,
some of sturdy, taught rope,
some more modern and rigid
connecting remote
towers that rise both low and high,
criss-crossing overhead,
purposefully spun just like
some huge spider's web.

I've heard foreign duty is fun.
These folks are leery, though,
of us foreigners--they shun
us allies like foes!
I mean to say they're paranoid.
When I first arrived here,
the city was my new toy
to explore, not fear.
One day, exploring the skyways,
I startled two young girls
who were chatting in a place
which was not reserved
for private purposes at all;
it was a closed terrace
high on top a tower wall
centered in a pass
leading from a set of stone stairs
to a double juncture
of rope walkways hung mid-air
that stretched out over
the teaming streets way down below.
Those girls shot me a look
as I was trying to go
through the passage nook,
not intending to disturb them,
not intending them harm;
but that's just how they acted,
as if I was armed!
So I slipped on by and passed both,
stifling their chatter,
grabbing the handrails of rope
and running faster
than I really should have up there!
But I'm pretty agile,
and I didn't want them scared,
giving a profile
to their police to post in town,
keeping me laying low
with no reason to hide out.
(They were weird, you know!)
Now, those two girls looked typical;
olive-skinned with black hair,
their shoulders draped with dark shawls,
an exotic pair!

The weather's so warm and humid.
It's so different from home.
I know you'd really love it,
this tropical zone.

One of the first things I did here
was make myself a friend.
He's a local cab driver.
(NO, I'm not incensed!)
His name is Yahnootz, and he's cool,
but he's not from this land.
He came here to go to school,
but that was a sham
because his true purpose was to
defect from his country
and to start his life anew
outside the dark East.
I don't care how it is for my
security clearance!
He's not any kind of spy.
(Though that's just a hunch!)
I met him just six months ago:
I had to call a cab
to take a girl I had known
to a social dance.
He ended up as my driver;
we traveled quite a while
before we finally got there,
outside city lines.
He's crazy about our music,
and was listening to
that old band that really rips,
you know, that old group
you used to love--"Concrete Balloon?"
I had to sing along with one famous old tune
called Staircase to God.
And I translated as I sung,
'cause Yahnootz couldn't speak
any word of our language
(not even a peep).
He was so appreciative
of my quick translation,
he didn't charge for the trip.
So I just thanked him,
and asked him to swap phone numbers,
to get together more.
It was a friendly offer
he was thankful for.

It has been quite a nice friendship
that I've managed to find.
(At least ONE relationship
developed that night!)
And talk about exotic, man!
Their food is really nice.
He said come to his house and
we'd cook out some night.
Grilled tomatoes coated with crumbs,
spicy and delicious;
roasted onions nicely stuffed
with ground meats and herbs.
And that night we drank up some beer,
me, him and his girlfriend!
(She's been with him for a year,
wants to marry him.)

And now I have to really watch
how much money I spend
going out to restaurants
with my other friends!
You know how "well" we're paid and all.
But sad as our pay is,
it's more than their national
pay on the average.
I guess we should be thankful for
our strong economy.
That's what comes from winning wars.
Well, for us at least.
And we should be thankful for our
political system!
Back home they all complain how
it'll ruin them.
But this one here just can't compare!
It's rotten and corrupt.
They tell lies like they breathe air;
it's really messed up!
And I don't know how much I like
living near hostile lands.
These people here love to fight.
(I guess you know that.)
And those people off to the east,
from where Yahnootz came over,
would love to come barreling
across the border,
hauling artillery, in tanks,
loaded down with big guns,
aching to release the hate
from millennia
of stupid ethnic differences
only they seem to know;
petty things they won't forget
'till they kill some more.

In case another war breaks out,
we're to evacuate
through a war-time airlift route.
That would be insane!
The airport would be such a mess,
what could ever take off?
The planes would get shelled and wrecked,
we'd be dodging shots!
Yahnootz and I came up with plans
in case of invasion:
We'd all head west in his cab
to seek asylum
in the next country over there.
He says he would get shot
if he were somehow ever
stopped by them, or caught.

Yahnootz has had some ups and downs
since he has defected.
He thought that there'd be no bounds
to life in the West.
Now he knows it's no paradise.
(Even though it's better.)
They still tell official lies,
those in government,
to put up with, and all that crap.
(But not what he's used to!)
His freedom smells like old hat,
except it's more new.

One of his very first problems
involved a local girl.
she was more than just a friend
to all kinds of fools.
She had a kid from some GI,
who up and ran away.
So she needed a new guy
she could pin the blame.
My friend, Yahnootz, fell in her trap.
At the child-care office,
she said that he was the dad
(to get benefits)!
According to the laws here, one
automatically pays
child support if a woman
ever files a claim
of paternity against you.
Man, talk about unfair!
But the man can try to prove
he's not the father.
Often times that's not possible,
and the guy can't prove it.
So he gets stuck with that BULL,
and another's kid!
Fortunately, his papers showed
her kid was born before
Yahnootz could ever have known
that blood-sucking whore.
It sucks how these women can frame
innocent guys like that,
placing orders for a name,
conjuring up dads
so they can get their child support
without regard to truth.
I'd hate to deal with their courts.
(Hope I'm never sued!)

Well, let me move to better things
that are here to enjoy.
I just love going shopping
in the downtown noise,
hunting for hot, exotic clothes
(especially for shoes)!
The sizes give me troubles,
but I've got a tool
my supervisor gave me
for comparing measures;
it makes the job of sizing
a lot easier.

And you know what I think I saw
downtown a month ago?
A few soldiers from a squad
of troops you should know.
Do you know anyone stationed
here on temporary
duty or on vacation
from the Fifth Army?
Isn't there a special unit
that you were assigned to,
some special-forces type shit
you are so into?
Well, I thought I saw some of them,
but it was too awkward
to ask if they'd recollect
if they'd ever heard
of you or your other buddies.
I think they were tankers
camped in the woods or something
here on maneuvers.
They tore that place a new asshole!
The locals just bill us
for any damages, though
(torn down trees and such).
It's quite a strange relationship
we have with this country.
We beat them in war, now we're
their PARENTS it seems!

I don't know, I'm just sick and tired
of them already.
They're just so rank and wild.
(No manners it seems!)
The men are mean to the women;
the women are too loud;
the children run everywhere;
trash is strewn around
as if none of them gives a shit
what their environment's like.
(Our folks would just throw a fit
if they saw this blight!)
And it's impossible to get
any sleep in this place
anytime during the night when
they're out drunk 'till late.
And that seems to be all of the time;
they always have to yell
at one another just like
they're all deaf as hell!
Maybe it's some kind of complex,
some insecurity
from loosing the war, I guess,
as if they're nothing.
And they always try to stand out,
and be something they're NOT
by always running their mouths
without too much thought
about the time, or where they're at.
What a bunch of buffoons!
Well, take good care (and all that).
I'll write again soon!