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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