Tightly in rows, my company sat placed,
To our commanding officer they faced
Attention all, admiring in his speech,
And though our necks stood stiffly, each to each
Exchanged their prideful auras growing still,
As on he boasted iron-thick our will,
Our strength in combat, fate that to us knelt;
With every compliment, yet more they felt
A torch unique that only lights in we
And those alike, bound for the armory,
Who hear a magic phrase repeated thus
And know it but aligned alone to us,
Endowing with the courage of our lack
To gear our bodies whole for dread attack,
Absorbing words to loyal minds prepare
For horrors of which sat we unaware.
He ended with a prayer, and all to stand
Began in unison at faith's command,
An honor from his praise, and now, a blessing,
Exuded 'cross the hall, on each impressing
Hope and promise of ability
Of which the officer, with surety,
Commended his soldiers. I mouthed along
By habit, as one mimes a common song;
So often used against my open ears,
I memorized it all over the years,
And, likely, I appeared as else the rest,
Imitating them, as any guessed.
We traveled to the battlefield by air,
So that we may combat the forces there.
While o'er the water, sergeant told of our foes,
And opposition they, so far, did pose:
"Now, men," he said above the engines' noise,
"Prepare for other men, but also boys,
For mothers and their daughters just as well;
They all will fight, as far as we can tell.
Be ready, men. Our enemies abound,
And will set on us once we touch the ground."
As rubber streaked the dirt, I saw my team,
Their focus jarred, their spirits shook to seem
As if a pike ethereal had struck,
And in the core of sentiment held stuck,
Tears squeezing past their welded-shut pores,
Hands clutching at some sudden, chest-spawned sores,
Brows tensed, to floor directed, still and wet,
Distracted by an impatient regret,
Arms dropping past their rifles, sick to hold them,
Exhausted at what their commander told them.
The transport slowed and gaped, intruding light
Upon them, to the fray to us invite.
Arrived, assigned to our patrols, we went;
Our general a group to field had sent
At every hour, to monitor the line
That stretched to our base in safety confine.
"We haven't seen much action here for weeks,
But you never know, so watch for sneaks."
At checkpoint C, we split among the dunes,
And used the trails of previous platoons
That led among the shrubs and higher hills,
Terrain that troops with careless senses kills;
We took a path for each of us to check,
A private way for one to cautious trek.
My trench beyond my limited vision sprawled,
Its winding length shaded and steeply-walled.
I lost the sound of else my squad in time,
As the enormous Sun to clearer place did climb,
And when my watch alerted for return,
From out my flank, a shape I could not discern
Leapt clumsily, and as it stumbled wild
Into the white rays, I beheld a child,
A girl by the draping veil, and rather young,
By the difficulty with which she swung
Her firearm, likely weighing more than her.
The body hidden, face a frightened blur
And concealed behind her mask, she aimed
With a rattling, bony hand by combat maimed,
Her weapon rays reflecting, matted tears
Darkening her cowl with unimagined fears.
With urgency mechanical as trained,
I gripped my pistol, steadied it, and rained
My enemy with searing bolts of lead
With such a force, her hood and cloak had shed,
Revealing what no man would e'er have seen
If I had chosen not to intervene,
And toppled her upon the salted earth,
Returning there so shortly after birth.
To sound of shots, re-formed my fellows swift,
And gathered they behind the sand-blown drift
Where lay defeated hostile unit bare.
Halting, they thought of nothing but to stare,
Their guns slid on their straps from stance alert
To muscles slumped and reflexes inert.
From under helmets, blank through hollow eyes,
Too captured to exhibit their surprise,
They simply watched the corpse, as for a move,
Some sign to such outrageous sight disprove,
But none was given. Only rustling dress
Provided any music to the mess.
I shined my boots in peace aside my cot;
My company routines and talk forgot,
Preoccupied with the earlier event
That energies and will-powers had spent,
And clasped them in a relentless show
Of that girl's body, still out in the blow,
Gazing at pictures of families' smiles,
Thankful their children were distant by miles,
Some milling down the bunks, in wonder lost,
Some sitting, cradling heads in woe embossed,
In silence, save for me while rubbing more
The leather, set on finishing my chore.
Another came upon me with a gait
That showed his sorrowfully-cautious state,
His heavy foot-steps knocking as he crept,
Regretful as the barracks quiet wept,
Descending opposite where I reclined,
And leaning with concerned expression kind,
Decided, by his look, how best to word
His somber comment, for a moment stirred,
The atmosphere he had created there
Portraying in his reddened, helpless stare,
Until, at last, I lowered cloth and boot
In an effort to uplift his bidding mute.
"I'm sorry," said he, "I know this must be hard;
That ambush left a lot of soldiers scarred,
And not by shrapnel. Listen, I don't know
Just what you must be going through.. although,
I want to; I've not been out fighting yet.
It's Hell to have to use your gun, I bet,
But even worse to use it on a kid..
Please, tell me how it felt for what you did."
I reasoned back to hot that deathly scene,
And sought some mark appropriate to glean,
A clue in clotted hair or scorching skin,
The bullets lodged and melted fast within,
The face of desperate terror I had froze,
Limp hands that could not round her weapon close,
Then spoke my answer after pondering:
"No joy or sorrow; nothing. Not a thing."