First thought upon waking–
viral hide and seek
wearing us down.
Dreaming of weekend leave,
Before the return to mud.
The newscast announces an IED*
blew up another patrol.
My heart pounds.
I strain to hear the names.
Let him be safe.
Let him be safe.
One hundred fifty-eight other names were called.
A thousand prayers unheard.
A thousand exploded hearts.
He carries them all in his duffel
when he returns.
IED= improvised explosive device.
A favourite student of mine fought in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces. As I listened at the radio during the time he was gone, I was conscious of what an entire generation of families must have felt as they listened to hear about all the boys and men of their communities fighting abroad. The magnification of the stress was easy to imagine. ‘My’ soldier returned safely to Canada and returned to the high school to speak in a Rembrance Day service a year or two later. I bawled my eyes out through the whole thing so thankful he was alive and whole. I’m thinking of him today, and all those families whose hearts were broken, not so long ago.
The line of naked men was long, snaking along a corridor
in the recruitment centre, with whispered jokes and camaraderie,
then the naked line was shorter,
then just one naked man standing awkwardly alone,
in the line of now clothed young men.
He fought flaming cheeks as they studied him punctiliously.
“No, you won’t do,” the army medical team announced. “Heart murmur.”
A great escape, that. The boys who went to war never quite came home.
But that heart murmured along for another three quarters of a century,
serving his country by staying alive..
My dad had a lot of stories.
Apparently I’ll be working through my grief setting them down as poems.
An Argyll and Sutherland Highlander’s
in respectful silence, stand proud
beneath a towering arch,
the bronze visages of
the nation’s memorial to those
fallen in foreign wars,
Keeping faith at the tomb
of the unknown soldier,
Clad in kilt and jacket,
green as the fields of France,
red and white stockings over
shining white spats,
bronze warriors towering above
as one of Princess Louise’s Highlanders
This poem references the powerful political cartoon by Bruce MacKinnon drawn in the aftermath of the shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo (a reservist with the Argylls and Sutherland Highlanders) on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, October 22, 2014:
Here is Corp Cirillo guarding the national war memorial:
The Argylls and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada on parade.
(I thought I was just posting links to original sites, but the images are showing up. Copyright remains with original sources).
“Every one is going, Mom!”
“You have to do your duty, Son.”
“We desperately need the money, Hon.”
“It’ll all be jolly good fun,
and over scarce moments once it’s begun!”
Voices echo, arms wave farewell,
as adventurous lads descend into hell.
They see what boys should never see
March in when the sensible would turn and flee
They rise each day at reveille
to create a future for you and me
Built on their fear, their pride, their aim
To fight whether they be slain.
When men return, once battles end
They toast their comrades and their friends
Through years of anguish in the night
When dreams return them to the fight
Today we salute them, the wounded boys
the men of valour, whose youth was deployed
into a horror of noise and mud
baptizing them with gore and blood
So we can stand before the cenotaph
To honour their sacrifice on our behalf.
We do not glorify their war
but we know what they were fighting for.
To the boys who left home, to the men who returned whole or broken, in thanks.
Here’s a link to the song “Soldier Boy” by The Pids. I went to high school with Stu Aspinall, who will donate a portion of all iTunes sales of this song to PTSD services for returned combatants.
Eric Bogle wrote my two favourite Remembrance Day songs. I always weep while I play or sing sing them. Beautiful and poignant pieces that explore huge themes. While we acknowledge the sacrifices of those who went away to war, we must also recognize the need to better ways to deal with conflict. When dealing with bullies, it’d be nice if discussion would bring about resolution, but so often, they only understand a big stick. It is the worst thing about humanity. The fact that people are willing to deal with those bullies, for whatever motivation, is still sadly necessary. So, here is Eric Bogle’s “Green Fields of France.”
My father age twenty-five.
his desires divided,
stood in line with naked men
waiting for the army to welcome them.
They listened to his slow, weak heart,
and said he’d stay home to do his part.
My father age twenty-five
managed to stay alive.
While his friends went off to foreign shores,
at home he built bombers for the war.
His friends returned broken and stayed,
with their damaged mates from their brigades.
Dad was whole and grieved the loss
of friendships torn by life or death.
On the decades rolled
and now each soul
who stood entwined within that line
is gone, save dad, whose slow, frail heart
turned out to be his strongest part.
Dad thinks back upon that line,
and celebrates birthday ninety-nine.