The rich opium-laced breeze soothed us in its warm embrace
and lulled the senses to relax.
It seduced the wary eye to settle on the peaceful façade of this bitterly contested place
and prompted heartfelt admiration of the lush greenery, the canal
(whose cheerful, gurgling chuckle had carried
the blasted remnants of another friend downstream only nine days before),
and the ancient hand-crafted compound walls;
visible now only as dark silhouettes,
beneath a deep, twinkling and strangely familiar heaven.
This is where we reconciled –
this sandbagged nest we shared;
wrapped crudely in a dusty net
and raised above a pre-historic land
littered with reminders of chaotic, violent instants.
Like short snarled sentences punctuating the long anxious chapters of waiting,
brass cases – expelled in acrid, heated rage –
lie cool now beside the crushed remains of lazily smoked cigarettes.
A moment is never truly important
until it is beyond the reach of our too-late-learning grasp.
That conversation, uttered in low concealed tones,
focussed on the journeys of life and love
and the accepting realisation
that naïve ideals of adventurism, glory and altruistic hope
can lead a man to risk all in the pursuit of something that never really existed,
and the dawning understanding
that the risk we take is not only real,
but also not only ours to own.
Families, friends and lovers will feel the heat
and the body shattering force of the blast,
that rips limbs from torsos
and reduces smiling men to bloody matter,
more keenly than he who takes unknowingly that final step
where earth and fire and man must meet in mutual devastation.
He that dies knows not the pain of loss;
the wounds inflicted lie deeper than the shards of plastic, metal and stone
that tear living tissue from bone,
that puncture organs with dumb, jagged imprecision.
No medic can stem the bleeding from these hearts.
No stretcher, lifted by desperate bloody hands,
can bear them swiftly to a better place.
Time may disguise their visible wounds
but the real damage remains raw beneath the fading scars.
Pomp, ceremony and bold rhetoric,
like the smiling face of Janus,
allow man and nation to beautify this savage calling;
to believe that this destruction of bodies and souls can be justified,
nay… required and even lauded!
Medals, congratulations, proud condolences and bachic parties,
with revellers in braid and lace,
belie the sin that man commits against his naked self.
And even the priest, who claims to understand God’s message,
proclaims, with no hint of irony,
that “War, like childbirth, may be bloody and painful,
but the ends can justify the means.”