‘The War Reporter Paul Watson and the Room across the Hall’ by Dan O’Brien

The War Reporter Paul Watson and the Room across the Hall

It’s like they’re still in college. Mattresses
on the floor. Empty soda bottles filled
with water. Chicken bones and French fry stubs
in clamshell cardboard. Toilet rolls along
electric radiators. One laptop
like a fire in the cave mouth at night. Cords
suckling at working sockets. A tissue
box for unmentionables. Mugs and Moleskine
diaries. Backpacks, blankets. A feather
duster in a pressure cooker. Kevlar
vests and helmets, bullets, Kalashnikovs
and concussion grenades. I caught a glimpse
whenever they came or went. Jawboning
behind their door like they were debating
the death of God or Freud. And once I heard
English barked in a Brooklyn accent but
covered my ears for fear. Spat my toothpaste
into a kidney dish. Sank to my couch
cushion on the floor. In my solitary
room across the hall. Kevlar vest, camera
in my helmet. A pillar of sunrise
through Venetian blinds. While the muezzin
rouses Aleppo: Hurry to prayer,
hurry to success!
They dragged a mattress
through my door, loaded with a newish corpse,
or so I thought at first. Black hair like moss
growing over a bullet scar. Breathing
miraculously. His midnight tracksuit
with Adidas stripes. Sharp cheeks, rusty beard
sculpted handsomely by his friends. Bare feet
smelling of urine. While they were mopping
their room across the hall, the living corpse
watched me. As if smiling. As if sharing
his faith: Hurry to prayer, hurry to

(Originally published in Ambit Issue 218, Autumn 2014)
Dan O’Brien is a poet and playwright in Los Angeles. He is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Drama and Performance Art. His War Reporter received the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh Prize and was shortlisted for the Forward Foundation’s Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection. Scarsdale (2014) is O’Brien’s second collection, and New Life, his third, was published 13 October 2015; all three books are published by CB Editions in London.