combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2006

Alone in a World of Screams

      I visited your house again before I left
      It was not unlike any other house
      It was just the same as always
      Neat and clean and attractive and quite vacant
      Nobody was there, not even you
      It was like that every time I went
      So why should I expect anything else?
      The light made fascinating patterns
      In the uninhabited space
      And motes danced
      And I remembered hearing
      That the universe was just a mote in God's eye
      I have been evaluated, and made evaluations
      And I have had reservations, for all men make them
      So I left for work
      Quietly closing the door
      That echoed on an empty dream

      When I arrived over there
      In that exotic arena
      What a strange place with strange ways
      I saw more houses like yours
      Not the same, but similar
      Arranged differently, but reminiscent
      So I looked for you there too
      On the pagoda roofs
      In the bamboo thickets
      Under the stolid rocks
      And in the chuckling streams
      I thought you might be hiding
      Way up in the clouds
      Or around the next corner
      Or behind the next tree
      Playing a game of hide and seek
      In plain view
      Standing beside me
      Like the legends of the sage
      Squatting over your work
      Showing respect
      Offering a cup of tea with both hands
      And accepting respect

      I poked through odd piles of debris
      And peeked into crevices
      I pondered prayer wheels
      And peered into spirit houses
      I clambered up trees
      And slithered through tunnels
      I studied fish in a rice paddy
      And examined stars shining in a well
      I surveyed polished brass for images
      And I scrutinized shell fragments for insights
      I walked through the valley of shadows
      And all I ever found was daunting evil
      Evil so frightening that I lost my way
      Evil so frightening that it drove me away
      Out of myself, or into myself
      Deeper or farther
      Greater or smaller
      Who can say?

      There were little plaster saints
      For all the good they could do
      There were little plastic men
      Doing what anyone else told them to do
      There were liars and cheats and thieves and cowards
      And there was the enemy too
      There were men trying to be like beasts
      And there were men trying to be like gods
      And in this wretched world of screams
      You were not there
      And I could swear that you were not anywhere
      Not anywhere at all

      I glimpsed the inside of the magician's sleeve
      Hoping for an answer to suffering
      And stood in the mouth of the cat
      Hoping to find my home
      But all the cries sound the same
      And all the blood smells the same
      All the tears taste the same
      And the puzzle parts of the dead look just the same
      An indifferent and impersonal nature
      Never noticing the heart of the sparrow
      Never rejoicing in the call of the sparrow
      Never marking the fall of the sparrow
      Too careless to personalize each bullet
      Too mindless to note the effect of each stray
      As if fate had any play
      While conquest and slaughter captivates the strong
      Famine and plague shall exhaust the weak
      Leaving only the ripple of echoes in the ashes
      A nonsense pattern that's imbued with cosmic truth
      I would light incense
      But amidst all the other burning
      Would you notice?
      Would you care?

      I am paused on this pinnacle
      It is not where I meant to go
      It's not where I intended to arrive
      But from the bottom, all heights are majestic
      And all grandeur is alluring
      Others, cloud draped and looming, stand nearby
      But I cannot step from summit to summit
      From peak to peak
      I am a mere man
      Weak and vulnerable and defective
      I, like every petty man, would be pathetic
      If I were not so savage
      But even rock is subject to erosion
      And ice will suddenly fracture
      And I stand here
      Poised like a sentry
      Battered into exhausted perplexity
      Scanning for traces of where I've been
      Knowing I've done what I must
      Knowing I've done my best
      But still not understanding why

      When I began my quest
      Like all young idealists
      I sought meaning
      To give reason and purpose to life's chaos
      For I would witness
      The best of heroic experiences
      And the worst of absolute imperatives
      And like a carnival of peculiarities
      There were shills and barkers for every persuasion
      Trying to addict converts to the one true faith
      Of patriotism or adventurism or boosterism
      Where people had to be saved or redeemed
      Or washed in the blood of something-or-other
      Because they would be better dead than red!
      So tradition and continuity were substituted
      And meaning became just another word
      Like love or faith or trust or hope
      And could be traded whenever something better came along
      Like promotion or praise or a pension

      Because I cannot see anything ahead
      With nowhere to go, and no way to stay
      I look back over my past
      Rucksack at my feet
      Rifle propped in reach
      Not unlike any other warrior made ancient on campaign
      Searching for the remnants of pride
      Hoping to recognize some wounded virtue
      Like a lost coin plucked from the muck
      Hoping honor might be ransomed
      By burnishing with memories
      So I gaze upon the point of our beginning
      And I see where some were left behind
      Where others were carried away
      Where some passed me by
      And others broke away
      And right there, my dear friend was killed
      And over there, I was horribly torn
      And if you can follow the trail of tears
      It just keeps shrinking
      Until I am all alone
      Stumbling and mumbling my poor way through fatigue
      Utterly and completely bereft
      And weary beyond measure
      I am so tired
      So very very tired
      So tired of being alone and afraid
      So tired of being forsaken
      So tired of being forlorn
      Of being like the beasts of the field
      Without a home
      Made warm by brotherly compassion
      And furnished with the souls of scholar warriors
      So damn desperately tired
      And you were never home
      When the world was full of screams

by Viktor von Bruderkin
... who is a former Marine, a war veteran, an amateur poet and thespian, whose work has appeared previously in this magazine.

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