War Poems 2008

War poems submitted to The War Poetry website in 2008.

Poems found on this page

 

The Warrior's Code of Honor by an anonymous soldier.

Shepherd by Cody McEwan

The last veteran by Brian Cowan

Lights out and Some foreign field by Phuoc-Tan Diep

Military meeting with local leaders in Iraq

Delville Wood, Visiting the dead by Alan Barker

Forgiveness by Alan Barker

The Warrior's Code of Honor

 

From an American soldier who wishes to remain anonymous. 


Writer's Note:
As a combat veteran wounded in one of America's wars, I offer to speak for those who cannot. Were the mouths of my fallen front-line friends not stopped with dust, they would testify that life revolves around honor. In war, it is understood that you give your word of honor to do your duty -- that is -- stand and fight instead of running away and deserting your friends. When you keep your word despite desperately desiring to flee the screaming hell all around, you earn honor.


Earning honor under fire changes who you are. The blast furnace of battle burns away impurities encrusting your soul. The white-hot forge of combat hammers you into a hardened, purified warrior willing to die rather than break your word to friends -- your honor. Unbeknownst to civilians, some things are worth dying for.


This work attempts to describe the world as seen thru the eyes of a combat veteran.  It is a world virtually unknown to the public because few veterans talk about it.  This is unfortunate since people who are trying to understand, and make contact with combat veterans, are kept in the dark.
I offer these poor, inadequate words - bought not taught - in the hope that they may shed some small light on why combat veterans are like they are.


It is my life desire that this tortured work, despite it's many defects, may yet still provide some tiny sliver of understanding which may blossom into tolerance - nay, acceptance - of a Warrior's perhaps unconventional way of being due to combat-damaged emotions  from  doing his duty under fire.

 


The Warrior's Code of Honor


Combat is scary but exciting.
You never feel so alive as when being shot at without result.
You never feel so triumphant as when shooting back -- with result.
You never feel love so pure as that burned into your heart by friends willing to die to keep their word to you. And they do.
The biggest sadness of your life is to see friends falling.  
The biggest surprise of your life is to survive the war.  
Although still alive on the outside, you are dead inside -- shot thru the heart with nonsensical guilt for living while friends died.  
The biggest lie of your life torments you that you could have done something more, different, to save them.  
Their faces are the tombstones in your weeping eyes, their souls shine the true camaraderie you search for the rest of your life but never find.
You come home but a grim ghost of he who so lightheartedly went off to war.  
But home no longer exists.  
That world shattered like a mirror the first time you were shot at.  
You live a different world now.  
You always will.
Your world is about waking up night after night silently screaming, back in battle.
Your world is about your best friend bleeding to death in your arms, howling in pain for you to kill him.
Your world is about shooting so many enemies the gun turns red and jams, letting the enemy grab you.
Your world is about struggling hand-to-hand for one more breath of life.
You never speak of your world.  
Those who have seen combat do not talk about it.  
Those who talk about it have not seen combat.
The hurricane winds of war have hurled you as far away as Mars, and you can never go back home again, not really.  
After your terrifying - but thrilling dance with death, your old world of babies, backyards and ballgames seems deadly dull.    
People you knew before the war try to make contact with you.  
It is useless.  
Words fall like bricks between you.  
Serving with warriors who died proving their word has made pre-war friends seem too untested to be trusted - thus they are now mere acquaintances.  
Earning honor under fire has made you alone, a stranger in your own home town.  
The only time you are not alone is when with another combat veteran.  Only he understands that keeping your word, your honor, whilst standing face to face with death gives meaning and purpose to life.  Only he understands that spending a mere 24 hours in the broad, sunlit uplands of battle-proven honor is more satisfying to a man than spending a whole lifetime in safe, comfortably numb civilian life.
Although you walk thru life alone, you are not lonely.  
You have a constant companion from combat -- Death.  
It stands close behind, a little to the left.  
Death whispers in your ear: "Nothing matters outside my touch, and I have not touched you...YET!"
Death never leaves you -- it is your best friend, your most trusted advisor, your wisest teacher.
Death teaches you that every day above ground is a fine day.
Death teaches you to feel fortunate on good days, and bad days...well, they do not exist.
Death teaches you that merely seeing one more sunrise is enough to fill your cup of life to the brim -- pressed down and running over!
Down thru the dusty centuries it has always been thus.  
It always will be, for what is seared into a man's soul who stands face to face with death never changes.
Dedicated to absent friends in unmarked graves. 


A Purple Heart Medal recipient who made a promise to remain an unknown soldier. 
Member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).
Life Member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). 
www.militarycodeofhonor.com

 

Cody McEwan writes:

 
I am a U.S. army infantryman, who has spent time in Mosul, and Baghdad. 


Shepherd


I found out that not only was the light off,
But it was also broken.
No money for kerosene.
No money for nothin'.
Built my house out of grease cans in the middle of the dump 
with the grazing sheep and burning garbage. 
I only eat rice and corn chips. It's all I can afford.
I look around for useful things 
that other people have thrown away. 
I build and make use.
It used to stink here and everywhere 
but now I hardly notice.
I long for the once peaceful country under iron fisted security. 
Unity. 
Nothin' but cigarettes and death these days.
Chaos.
Sometimes when it's real hot I can smell the bodies 
cooking under the trash piles.
I wonder who they are.
Who did they love?
In the winter the floor turns to mud and it's frigid.
My kids are skinny.
My wife is dying.
She's very sick.
I need help, but there is no humanity within a thousand miles of here.
Sometimes thieves come at night and steal my chickens.
Sometimes it seems like our god never loved any of us at all.
Maybe he eats pain like a Sunday snack.
Maybe he keeps all the good feelings for himself. 
Or Maybe somewhere in heaven there is a clean little pond 
with birds and fish and sheep that reflects a healthier happier me; 
with long black hair and a full beard and deep brown eyes 
that smile in eternity.
Little, smiling children in the river,
Where we wash our clothes, 
Where the sewage flows and their little ribs stick out, 
Hugging tuberculosis lungs 
all black 
from breathing the fire from the tires.


Cody McEwan

 

 

 

The Last Veteran 


I am the last. 
There's no one left but me, 
Of all of us who fought your wars who you no longer see, 
I am the last. 
The rest have gone before, 
Sudden on some battlefield on someone else's shore, 
In hospice or in prison camps or time's unending bore, 
I am the last, 
With no one left for tears, 
To mourn my loss as I have mourned those losses through the years, 
Of quiet heroes, friend and foe, with the courage to believe 
Peace is born of sacrifice, affording none reprieve. 
I am the last. 
And you may think it well, 
To gloat upon my passing as I shuffle into hell, 
Taking comfort and assurance from the ending of my time, 
That war, forever banished by the passing of my kind, 
Will leave you to your cherished peace with none to pay the bill, 
Foolishly believing it a simple act of will. 
For arrogance beguiles all those who supplicate the plough. 
O foolish men of foolish peace, 
I am the last, 
For now.


​Brian Cowan(Canada)

From Phuoc-Tan Diep


Phuoc-Tan is a Vietnamese refugee - a 'boat person'. His family arrived in the UK in 1978. He particularly wants to say he is thankful for every day of life. His desire is to wake people up to some of the deeper questions:
life and death,
love and sacrifice,
war and freedom.
http://ptdiep.wordpress.com/
Here are two war poems I have written. The second is a prose poem.


I have published them previously in a free e-book (and on Ink Sweat & Tears) called Lights out & other poems @ http://stores.lulu.com/Diep


Lights out


'Lights out, lights off,'
we flee our beds,
downstairs, down there
helter-skelter, into the shelter
hidden from bombs
dropped by fathers in uniform
with similar smiles to Santa Claus.

Spotlights touch those planes above,
fingers too thin to catch the bullets
and bombs that fall like sand
and stones that clatter on children's heads,
bent over, pushed down by shaking hands
of mothers crying with hopes they wish could shield their
children's bodies
when the blast sends waves of sound
so loud it deafens the ground,
which quakes and groans and moans,
and breaks the house,
bursting it open, spilling its guts
all down the street.


There's the broken leg
from granddad's table.

There's the kettle
bursting and boiling too quick to whistle.

There's mom's laundry
never again in need of ironing
having found its final form
as singed confetti thrown
towards those planes
which fly so close, almost engaged,
but free to break for home,

which may not exist,
when they get back
if our fathers' presents are handed out
to foreign children, just like me.


My ears! My ears!
They bleed and ring with deafness
lodged too deep to think.
Its been so long the blood has dried
and died, so long the skin
has fallen off and blown away,
pieces of dust unmissed, unseen
blown over sea to find a field
where people plant and pray for life
to burst from seeds, then march back home
to bare houses where light
is scarce and mothers screech,
'Lights out, lights off,
no need for light when you're asleep.'

Late at night I hear mom ask,
'To kill, to die, are we better off?'
but she should know better,
the ground's too deep
for dad to hear her cry.


Phuoc-Tan Diep

 


Some foreign field

A can of Canada Dry ginger ale lies exposed, torn in half.
A tramp sniffs it for booze.  It smells of fruit
fermenting in wet packs.  His boots are rotten, toecaps
lifting off dirt-encrusted feet.  He looks like he has
marched a long way, from a far off bunker in some foreign
field to this hidden place under a leafy bush in St. James
Park.


The green map of Canada expands, reflected in sodium
street lights, mixing with leaves and covering him with
lines of longitude and latitude, like a thin wire cage.

Now the soldiers lack stealth as they march, feet tapping
on thin aluminium.  He can almost hear their communiqués,
the Morse code of tiny feet.  The tramp shuffles deeper
under the bush, allowing shadows to hide him from enemy
eyes.  Police sirens keep him on the edge of sleep.


Soft grass sighs as it is crushed under the running feet
of a young boy, too young for cigarettes.  He coughs up
smoke in great mustard swirls.  He looks around, eyes
hidden under his cap with U2's Achtung Baby emblazoned on
it.  He flicks the glowing tip, sparks flaring bright, and
lobs it like a grenade, into the ginger ale can.  He
flees.


Soldier ants rush out over No Man's Land and flattened
poppies into their trenches.

There is two minutes silence.

The boom-boom of nightclubs shudder leaves, raining them
down like shrapnel on the tramp.  He flinches, retreating
further into the ambush of sleep. 


Phuoc-Tan Diep
 

Military meeting with local leaders in Iraq


UK soldier, Niall Campbell explains what prompted this poem.


"After a very long provincial council meeting, with no air conditioning, very hot and the discussions rambled on.  Looking out of the window for release, across a fairly depressing scene, I thought about all the issues they were trying to solve.   Seemingly insurmountable."


And the council’s talking still
And the council’s talking still. 
While your education’s failing
And your teachers cannot teach,
While the classrooms have no tables
Praise to Allah for your speech.
 
While the power cuts are crippling
And the workers cannot earn,
While insurgents still attack you
Pray to Allah it’s not your turn
 
While the fields are left to rot
And the farmers herd their sheep,
While the irrigation’s broken
Pray to Allah for your keep.
 
While the hospitals are crumbling
And the doctors fight to save,
While the children lie there dying
Pray to Allah it’s not your grave.
 
While sewage spills on the street
And infection slowly spreads,
While disease and illness cripple
Thank Allah you’re not dead.
 
While the council’s still debating
Where decisions are never made,
While the parties reconsider
Pray to Allah you get paid.
 
While your country staggers 
Down the democratic path
The terrorists are winning
Pray to Allah it won’t last.
 
And the council’s talking still
And the council’s talking still.


Niall Campbell
February 2008

About Niall Campbell. January 2010.


Niall has provided these notes about his background

"I am still serving in the Army. My background has been Scottish infantry, now for over 34 years,which my wife considers is far too long.  I have written verse about military matters off an on for the last 20 years, mainly from the soldiers perspective or general comment about campaigns I have taken part in."  

Delville Wood, Visiting the dead

 

High on the Somme, by Delville Wood,                         
in tangled undergrowth we stood. And stared.
At Mills bombs from so long ago,
and rusted shells we did not know. Nor dared.
To pick them up lest handling should
disturb the peace of Delville Wood. Souls bared.
But gazed with saddened eyes instead,
at rolling fields where untold dead.  Lay unprepared.
And realised all that was good.
Had ended here, at Delville Wood.


Alan Barker
March 2002

 


 

 

 

Forgiveness

 

Forgive me all my tears, my mind is weary.
For those I loved, now gone into the night.
Freed of all their earthly fears. And dreary.
Whose passing marked the drawing down of light.
Forgive me my response, my heart is sore.
Youth’s needless sacrifice, to right a wrong.
And life? I loved it once, ‘til clouds of war.
When Spring meant warmth. And flowers. 
And sweet birdsong.


Alan Barker
December 2005

 

Alan Barker explains:

 

The poems reflect my deep feelings and interest in what was the most brutal war of the 20th Century. I have read many books on the subject, have avidly read the War Poets work and have visited the Western Front twice in an attempt to try to make sense of it all. So far, this has eluded me.

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