Four Poems by Dan O'Brien

The War Reporter Paul Watson’s Fear of Los Angeles

Rising up through the earth, elevator
opens in Perfumes. Trial makeovers
for reptilian starlets. So many puffed
-up lips, surprised eyelids. Can’t stop screaming
in the dream. So I’ve been searching for flights
and wondering, Why don’t I stick around
till Monday for postmortem? We will sell
this pitch, or we won’t. And if nothing else
there’s always Disneyland. Is the subway
worthwhile? Because one time I made a wrong
turn out of LAX and there I was
in Mogadishu. With corpse collectors
shoveling flesh like cinders, flashing their death
-glares at me through a splintered windshield. Death
-glares while beating the dead American. Teeth
scarred by qat chewed to sharpen their hacking
skills. Every white man is a murderer,
they think, with reason. I hung a U-turn
across Sepulveda, I think it’s called,
with two African-Americans speeding
down on me. A Lincoln SUV. Death
-glare from the passenger seat, his finger
pointing at me as they passed. Thumb cocked. Glock
just out of reach, in the glove compartment,
one presumes.


Lift Me Up, Oil on Burlap, 6 x 8 in., 2006

Lift Me Up…


The War Reporter Paul Watson Pitches the Drama

She likes combat sex. Bouncing in the back
of Humvees, inappropriately jerking
around her band of brothers. Just one more
type-A indefatigable misfit
estranged from family in Hong Kong who prize
their disappointment in her. She’s serene
in fire fights, swearing like a Teamster when
she has to bust his balls. An IED
blasts them into bed, where they fall in love
even though she knows she won’t be able
to keep this baby. He wooed her with poems
secreted in his Moleskine. His Master
of Fine Arts like a millstone from Yale, Choate
before that. His correspondent father
dead of deep vein thrombosis, he dresses
fastidiously for him. Floating on streams
of unconscious dread. In due course he’ll win
a Pulitzer with his wife. Their divorce
will be mostly due to this ingénue
past her sell-by date. Who buys her Canon
on Amazon used, catapults herself
into war zones. Concerned about desert
winds drying her out, she lathers lotion
into bare shoulders. Terrorists ogling
like schoolboys, grinning daggers. So she spreads
it on thicker next time. He’s a lone wolf
with PTSD. Secluding himself
in this dreary sublet in Bourj Hammoud
with an ocean view, a tumbler of scotch
in his hand. Pursued by JPEGs of ghosts
in camouflage, dog tags as winkling wind
chimes, 9 mm slipped in his mouth
for the taste sometimes. Wants out. Gets offered
a career in Hollywood, or PR,
but he’d rather get kidnapped than get paid
to lie more than he has to. A decade
of SSRIs has taken their toll
on his libido, but still he can rise
to most occasions, when inspired. The spy
feeds him party lies. As they promenade
along the Corniche, sunset spume flirting
between barrier rocks. She’ll pick his brain
out of her pillow. Delivering the news
along encrypted lines, she falls in lust
with the hunky addict next. Who survives
paradoxically thanks to Bob Capa’s
dictum: If your pictures suck you’re not close
enough. To paraphrase. The very same
philosophy he follows when stalking
his nightly barroom prey. The signature
fetid keffiyeh without fail, necklaced
with cameras, wide-angle to phallically
telephoto. He turns heads. She wants me
to fuck her, he likes to grunt. In the port
-o-john on base. Just like he brags about
his dalliances with death. So naturally
no one will share a cab with him. Either
he’s a natural, or a natural
psychopath. Who tends to become a gay
-basher when drunk. So no surprise he longs
for his fixer. This swashbuckling Christian
Beiruti, inventively elusive
of rebel militia. Israel’s Thunder
fighters flattened his father’s glue factory
in ’06, so he needs dollars to rent
his industrial-chic, metal-façaded
condo in Hamra. Where professors roll
backgammon by day. By night transvestites
in leather minis, thigh-high boots parade
like Brigitte Bardots. He’s not too Halal,
but every American woman’s a snake
to be charmed, then crushed. Twice-divorced, the plague
of her profession. Brittle, she resents
the passion of her charges. This Doyenne
of the bureau on Rue Bliss. A frat house
with a feline touch, a couch for flopping
and fucking, keepsakes like casings. Paranoid
she’ll get fired, she digs through his duffel and
unlocks his device. Pilfering explicit
texts to forward to his wife. True motives
aside, she’s a heroine hammering
her sensible haircut against the glass
ceiling, while coddling and coaxing the dicks
who still hold the purse strings. Those Rear Echelon
Mother Fuckers. In his fishbowl office
armored with diplomas and photographs
of prestigious handshakes. The Rainmaker
sips immaculately. Slipping away
early. Try to lead with that teen blowjob
story, he’ll say. He’d rather be sailing
but he’s monastic, knees blown out leaping
from hovering Hueys in sweltering delta
LZs. Answering the phone when they call
to tell him his surrogate son’s been lost
in the streets of Aleppo as gas sweeps
in scentless on the breeze. He’s no different
from the generations of snow-haired men
sending generations of wheat-haired boys
into the thresher of war. A healer
-cum-psychiatrist in a back alley
room sweet with sandalwood. Sitar, tabla
splashing off his laptop. His voice soothing,
his wink impish. Our Magic Indian’s
an immigrant to Lebanon. Pseudo
-mystical about life. The water pipe
on the ottoman leaves the impression
he’s half-stoned most of the time. In a world
sick with killing, he’s a glutton failing
to follow his own advice to pay heed
to nobler truths, the most helpful of which
reminds us that war is the light that’s thrown
from the burning wick of desire.


Dome III (We Live in the City, Family Business), Acrylic and Conte on Canvas 26.75 x 32.5 inches, 2016

Dome III (We Live in the City/Family Business)


The War Reporter Paul Watson in LA-ndahar

I guess it’s what you’d call a neighborhood
in transition? Police helicopters
hectoring, window panes prattling—talk
about a haunting! More persistent than
Army gunships flushing Taliban from
the brush. Well here’s to hoping this manhunt
lasts till dawn. That way I’ll be guaranteed
to have slept through the night.


Csavas Masked (T.C.), Acrylic and Monotype on Canvas, 8 x 8 in., 2015

Csavas Masked (T.C.)


The War Reporter Paul Watson in Disneyland

First thing I did was dive into dirty
water in the pool. Despite the timid
buds. Pinched doughy faces pressed to the glass
thinking we’re nuts, when the truth is we’re just
Canadian. A decade had passed without
a father. Seduced by the gunmetal
box with a slot, bolted to the paneled
headboard. We begged our mother to forage
some quarters from her purse. Then laughed supine
en famille, vibrating. Nauseated
later in our cups, gyring, the clockwork
agitprop of Kewpies caterwauling
all around our small, racist world. Robot
-zombie Lincoln too, of course. What horse shit,
I could already tell. So I detached
my plastic ears and proceeded as if
a wandering Jew, my name sutured in gold
cursive thread across the back of this black

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