Prisoners of War
We walked on shards, metal slivers
that sliced clean through our cardboard soles
We were told to move on, not to linger here
there was no comfort in this place anyway
We marched single file through mud and rain
so cold that we could no longer feel our bodies
we stumbled and fell
The butt end of a rifle slammed into our backs
such force, we collapsed face first into the mud
Pulling us up by our jackets, they set us upright
gently nudging us with the rifle this time
And on we went, two days and two nights,
no food or water, only a few hours sleep,
just forging ahead to somewhere
We weren’t allowed to speak
just a code of nods and winks got us through
When we finally reached our destination
a battle had ensued
There was nothing left of the camp but death
Our code traveled down the line: attack
With but twenty of them and a hundred of us,
we took our chances and advanced
slaying them easily with a snap of their necks
A few of us died and we buried them that day
but left our abductors out in the rain
© 2013 Lori Carlson
Of Bow Ties and Battlefields
When I was a young lad,
Papa used to say
you can tell a lot about a man
by the way he ties his bow tie.
Front and center was a sign of dignity.
Papa lived his whole life that way,
dignified to the very end.
When the draft came,
I took my dignified bow tie
to the jungles of Vietnam,
but this was no place for dignity.
Only death and the dying consumed me.
I remember hearing Papa say
pick your battles boy
or someone will pick them for you.
How could I tell him that the battles raging here
were not just in a rice paddy,
but charging full speed ahead in my mind?
Broken in mind and body,
shame followed me home.
I couldn’t shake the dead,
nor could I face my Papa.
How can I make you understand?
all that fighting and killing, the senseless killing…
There was nothing dignified about this war.
Home Fires Burning
Empty clothespins hung like readied soldiers off to slaughter
Our lives were like that then —
Harsh winters where clothes froze on lines
While troops lined up behind barricades too fragile to save them
Only the bitter cold prevented decimation or the will of God
We carried in coal in the mornings
Our hands and faces smeared with dust
We’d dip our fingers into ice cold water to wash it all away
While soldiers smeared icy mud on their clothes and faces
To blend in with the trenches.
Mother relied on rations to feed six kids and one on the way
Biscuits and water gravy were standards
If we didn’t want to starve, unlike starving
Soldiers who barely had enough bread and beans.
In the evenings, we chopped wood to bank the fires at night
Kindling first, then as much deadwood as we could find
Wet wood sat under tarps to dry
And green wood sat out in the elements to age
Like unseasoned soldiers, so green they cried at night.
They’ll toughen up real soon, if they survive.
We did whatever it took to keep the home fires burning,
While the men froze along in the ditches,
Some dying, some living, all wishing to go home.
And the winter’s angry breath blew —
Abandoned clothespins, soldiers slaughtered in war.
© 2013 Lori Carlson