“I want to be a soldier, miss!”
My teacher adds one to her list
“And you?” She points her length of chalk
At her decree I quickly walk
And blink before the silent class
Beside some plaque of beaten brass
“Would you become a soldier, son?
Bold and strong – they have a gun.”
I purse my lips and shake my head
Remembering those trembling dead
That limped across the road one day
— And no one stopped to give them way.
No one thought them bold or strong
Or cheered them as they trudged along
With stubs for limbs and canes for guns
Blind before a noon day’s sun.
The youth was plucked out from their eyes,
And seams were stitched along their thighs,
Across their face and gaping holes.
They wheezed along, that sad patrol
Into some home for former men
Where wars were lost with pus and phlegm,
Where daily lines were drawn on charts,
And surgeons cleft dead limbs apart,
Where nurses pressed down weeping ends
With gauze and mesh and burning blends
Of spirits, drugs — then hemmed with thread.
The day’s frontier for these near dead.
I see their eyes. Those wells of woe.
I shake my head and answer “No.”