13:3: “Unknown Soldier”, by Alexandra de Romen

13:3: “Unknown Soldier”, by Alexandra de Romen

Blood, mud, and the swift red buds
of battle steep in the sanguinary light
of a broken-down dusk
while howling long guns
stun the air with infantile outbursts.
I clamber over corpses of comrade
and foe alike with slip-fingered fumbling,
trip-toed tumbling, and no target in mind.

My mind is made up of landmine
shrapnel and white noise voices.
There was a man—I’m certain there was—
a man I killed who now clutches a pistol—
a man I killed who glances this way
that way, in search of me.

Each time I kill him—and I have
killed him—his features are branded
into my brain. Do I overlay that face
onto the heads of men who are
not him? No, I’ve plotted
the Gordian patterns of his bloodshot
eyes. It’s him, always.

When my enemy can’t lift his javelin, Hannibal
orders him hambled. When my own fellows
stopper the mountain pass, my foe’s fellows
scarper down the valleys, unforeseen.
When his army withdraws, burning their bridges,
mine advances, dispatching every him who doesn’t
drown in the river. And he drowns in the river
when we open Eulji’s dam.
Whether it’s Baghdad or Stalingrad, he’s there.
Tianjing or Antietam, I’m there.
Every lifetime, I seek him to break him
because he never truly dies, and until he does
I cannot.

Blood, mud, and the bruised red fruit
of battle never satisfy—I’ve come again
to this grisly harvest
to cut him back, to cull him.

May our spoils keep
during the bleak winters between.


Alexandra de Romen, a native New Mexican, was raised on a steady diet of tall tales and superstitions. Her poems can be found in Vine Leaves Literary Journal and Tales of the Talisman. She currently resides near Albuquerque. She says:

Because human conflict is timeless, I wanted to convey the monotonous dread and the unrelenting obsession of one soldier. I imagined every war being fought by men doomed to repeat their perpetual struggle, and I wondered why they’d come back at all. This poem is my answer.
 


Photograph of hoarfrost in Niedersachsen, Germany, by Daniel Schwen, is provided under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.



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