Kevin Powers: The Yellow Birds (excerpt from the novel, 2013)
The protagonist and narrator, a young American named Bartle, has just returned home to Virgina from fighting as a machine gunner with the US army in the war in Iraq. He is observing some of his friends from a distance while they are swimming in a river.
Luke and the rest of the boys and girls still splashed in the water, taking turns diving from the broad gray rocks into a little draft of current that swept them ten or twenty feet downstream like an amusement park ride. They were beautiful. I had to resist the urge to hate them.
I had become a kind of cripple. They were my friends, right? Why didn't I just wade out to them? What would I say? "Hey, how are you?" they'd say. And l'd answer. "I feel like I'm being eaten from the inside out and I can't tell anyone what's going on because everyone is so grateful to me all the time and I'll feel like I'm ungrateful or something. Or like I'll give away that l don't deserve anyone's gratitude and really they should all hate me for
what I've done but everyone loves me for it and it's driving me crazy." Right.
Or should I have said that I wanted to die, not in the sense of wanting to throw myself off of that train bridge over there, but more like wanting to be asleep forever because there isn't any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than
necessary to actually kill them and it was like just trying to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your
soul is gone and knowing from being taught your whole life that there is no making up
for what you are doing, you're taught that your whole life, but then even your mother is
so happy and proud because you lined up your sight posts and made people crumple and
they were not getting up ever and yeah they might have been trying to kill you too, so you say, What are you gonna do?, but really it doesn't matter because by the end you
failed at the one good thing you could have done, the one person you promised would
live is dead, and you have seen all things die in more manners than you'd like to recall and for a while the whole thing fucking ravaged your spirit like some deep-down shit, man, that you
didn't even realize you had until only the animals made you sad, the husks of dogs filled with explosives and old arty shells and the fucking guts and everything stinking like metal and burning garbage and you walk around and the smell is deep down into you now and you say, How can metal be so on fire? and Where is all this Fucking trash coming from? and even back home you're getting whiffs of it and then that thing you started to notice
slipping away is gone and now it's becoming inverted, like you have bottomed out in your spirit but yet a deeper hole is being dug because everybody is so Fucking happy to see you, the murderer, the fucking accomplice, the at-bare-minimum bearer of some fucking responsibility, and everyone wants to slap you on the back and you start to want to burn the whole goddamn country down, you want to burn every goddamn yellow ribbon in
sight, and you can't explainit but it's just, like, Fuck you, but then you signed up to go so it's all your fault really, because you went on purpose, so you are in the end doubly fucked, so why not just find a spot and curl up and die and let's make it as painless as possible because you are a coward and, really, cowardice got you into this mess because you wanted to be a man and people made fun of you and pushed you around in the cafe-
teria and the hallways in high school because you liked to read books and poems sometimes and they'd call you fag and really deep down you know you went because you wanted to be a man and that's never gonna happen now and you're too much of a coward to be a man and get it over with so why not find a clean, dry place and wait it out with it hurting as little as possible and just wait to go to sleep and not wake up and
2 current - here: die Strömung
19 sight post - part of a gun whith which to aim
25 husk - here: die (leere) Hülle, die Schale
34 arty shell - artillery shell (die Munitionshülse)
32 at-bare-minimum bearer of responsibility - s.o. who takes on only the most basic responsibility
34 yellow ribbon - item which expresses solidarity with the troops
Aus: Kevin Powers, Yellow Birds,
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2012.