Home Up
Men Digging In

another firebase playing silly games;
anything to help them remember that
the "Real World" still existed and that
their families were still waiting to 
welcome them home

some greeted us at the chopper,
carried our game bag,
obviously thrilled to see 
a round eye in a skirt
(these eagerly participated in 
our silly games)

others came shyly late,
not sure they would know 
how to act around girl women 
after being in the bush
for far too long;
but, if they stayed,
the eager ones usually
teased them into participating
and even these reticent ones seemed 
to transcend the war 
(if only momentarily)
as they tried to be the first
to yell out that 
Country Joe and the Fish
recorded
"I'm Fixin'-To-Die-Rag"

still, i often wondered if 
i was just bringing them lies;
feared they would never again see 
the "Real World" 
and that their families would not 
welcome home their coffins

some never came at all
too macho
or too afraid to remember
that there was another world

maybe they were right;
was i really doing anything 
that would change the reality of war 
or any outcome for the men who fought it?
	______________

down the road there were some men
who'd been in heavy contact, taken casualties,
scared, angry, sad, confused, depressed;
would my partner and i go see them?

(truthfully, i would go anywhere
i was allowed to go
and some places i probably 
wouldn't have been allowed
had i bothered to ask)

two jeeps appeared
50 cal machine gun
mounted 
on the front of one

men wearing flak jackets
steel pots
carrying varying weapons
and two donut dollies
(their light blue uniforms
making excellent targets)
drove silently down the road
for what seemed a long time
in this land of sudden death,
then pulled off the dirt path
and came to a halt

i could see maybe 15 boy men
digging in for the night
wearing tattered uniforms
and thousand yard stares
which were unchanged
by the arrival of our jeeps

i got out and began 
walking toward them
as they continued to dig,
oblivious to my presence
until i stood closely 
in front of one boy

as he looked up
his thousand yard stare
momentarily looked past me,
through me,
then transformed to confusion
becoming bewilderment

(a donut dollie was the 
last thing he had expected
to see)

thereupon his eyes revealed a realization:
"if the donut dollies are here,
i must be safe"
(the absurdity of that 
assumption
escaped us both)
and a twinkle appeared in his eyes
which rippled across his face
producing the smile of a 
child receiving his first puppy

we exchanged pleasantries,
talked of nothing
in particular nor memorable;
yet, it was a conversation
as intimate and healing
as a baptism of the born again

the others continued digging,
survival being the object of this game
whose score was tallied in body counts
(they had too recently added
the bodies of their own)

so I walked among the deepening holes
and spoke to each digger;
comforting, encouraging, laughing, joking,
pretending that the war would not reach
this tiny piece of earth

for I finally understood 
that even if these holes were to 
ultimately be their own graves
from which God 
chose to reclaim their souls,
at least He had allowed me to help Him
grant their last wish:
to once again remember those in the 
"Real World" waiting to welcome them home,
and to feel safe in the remembering
______________

on that day, i knew
that it did not matter
whether i had brought
lies or truths;
it mattered only that
i had come
	
emily strange
    1992
 

Back Next