Chapter Excerpt

Collateral

Present

POETS WRITE ELOQUENTLY


About war, creating vivid images

of severed limbs, crusting body fluids

and restless final sleep, using nothing

more than a few well-crafted words.

Easy enough to jab philosophically

from the comfort of a warm winter

hearth or an air-conditioned summer.

But what can a sequestered writer know

of frontline realities—blistering

marches under relentless sand-choked

skies, where you’d better drink

your weight in water every day or die

from dehydration? Flipside—teeth-

cracking nights, too frigid for action,

bored out of your mind as you try

to stay warm in front of a makeshift fire.

How can any distant observer know

of traversing rock-rutted trails,

hyperaware that your camouflage comes

with a built-in bull’s-eye; or of sleeping

with one ear listening for incoming

peril; or of the way fear clogs your

pores every time you climb inside

a Humvee and head out for a drive?

You can see these things in movies.

But you can’t understand the way

they gnaw your heart and corrode

your mind, unless you’ve been a soldier

outside the wire in a country where

no one native is really your friend,

and anyone might be your enemy.

You don’t know till you’re ducking

bullets. The only person you dare rely

on is the buddy who looks a lot like

you—too young for this, leaking bravado,

and wearing the same uniform.

Even people who love soldiers—

people like me—can only know these

things tangentially, and not so much

because of what our beloveds tell us

as what they’ll never be able to.

Excerpted from Collateral by Ellen Hopkins
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