combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2005

Private Bittersweet

      Pale limbs lay still, cupped by a hillside,
      Face tilted onto breastbone and eyes closed
      Too daintily, with lashes curled against ashen
      Skin, smudged with dirt and untouched by age.

      His clothes are wrinkled, and he is beautiful.
      His fingers linger near the gun, tips ghosting
      It, just barely. Beneath the grime is the smell of
      Tobacco, and the gunpowder fumes hide the scent
      Of far away cologne and diners and the ocean.

      The last of the cigarettes are in his breast pocket,
      Tucked away with the letters home, not one smoke
      In his fingers. He's waiting for someone to pin a flower
      To his chest, instead of a medal that isn't so shiny
      After it reaches home and lies sleeping in a box put away.

      The blood almost goes unnoticed, staining buttons and
      Not the earth, somehow. Bullet stopped his heart,
      Lodged in his chest, where the fear had been, where the
      Life had stayed. Those chapped and tender lips are almost

      Old song playing in his head -- dusty record.
      Old car rolling on the road -- tires lazy and shiny hubcaps.
      Old dreams floating off into the sky.
      Old memories bleeding away.
      Young fingers and lashes and breastbone and lips.

      Someone will take his helmet and give it to the sea.
      Someone will take his girl's letters and his pictures and his rosary.
      Someone will take his clothes from the wash and pretend
      Like they're keeping them for him.
      Someone will come to the hill for those silver dog tags.

      And when someone finds him here at last,
      Cradled in a grassy hill side, with wildflower fields
      On the other side, they will not see mirthful profanity
      Or teasing or shooting or secret
      Whispers of "I love you" in foxholes.

      Only combat boots and wrinkled green and blood,
      An orphaned gun, not the leftover cigarettes or the lighter
      he took from the last friend.

by Marie Solange Crosswell
... who is a student and aspiring writer, with a few of her works already anthologized.