national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2011

Buzz Cut Before Afghanistan

Matthew Brailas  • 
Princeton University


Two months before you leave

in a Chicago gas station,

you flash your brother’s ID

and buy a twelve pack of Budweiser. Tins of Grizzly dip.

Back in the car I open a bag of corn chips

and fling them one by one out the window.


Kids sliding down frozen driveways

on the lids of garbage cans, and

we do not belong here

wrapped in all the old coats we could find,

you still wearing boots and a cowboy hat,

spitting up black phlegm into an empty water bottle.

You show me cell phone pictures

of your naked ex

and joke about her tits. I smile

and don’t say anything.


The next morning, late and drunk to the airport,

you sleep the whole flight through.

Sweating out the booze, sweating out the dip.

Sweating out the tattoo across your shoulder,

the odors of Texas: limestone, dry earth,

itching stink of Bullnettle,

the desert cracked and shimmering, the stars

glittering like crushed beetles.


Dawn coils fat around the plane. Something

embryonic and swelling

wrenches itself from your body.

Looms toothless and hungry over you.



Camp Butler,

you line the cold metal

blade against your scalp

and push.