U.S. Soldier's Poem

2010 Barrett Winner

1st Place Sarah Monhollen

There’s dust stirring up everywhere we walk
This place is dry as death and depressing as hell
Would be as quiet if we weren’t here
The Nazis made their mess and now we’re here to tidy it
Three years here and the ugliest thing I’ve seen
Was a lunch of Limburger and tea

I never even shot a man
I shot at a few of them, traded fire with Nazis out in the field once
But I didn’t even hit one
And now they want me to clean out the death camp
But I’m here to do my duty
Whatever they decide that is today
And today I’m on cleanup duty

This must be one of those laboratories we heard about
Where they did things so bad that nobody hears about them
Because nobody wants to talk about them
One man comes out, a colonel
“No, man, don’t go in there.
You’ve got no business in there.”

He can’t block the sight of a bloody table, though
Or jars full of formaldehyde and God knows what
Damn right I’ve got no business in there
Nobody does but the devil
A sharp whistle draws me to where I do have business

Next to one of the storage sheds
They’re laying out stretchers and I grab one end, looking busy
A partner takes the other end, and another fellow
Rolls something onto it
I must have the head end
Because I’m face to face with a dead man
His eyes wide open

“Shame, isn’t it?” someone says
“They die with their eyes open like that.”
Yeah, yeah, a real shame
Shame doesn’t describe this
I’ve stared death in the eye and death stared right back
They can cover his face with a sheet
But I’ve already seen it

I can get the poor bastard to the truck and throw him in
It’s the least I can do
And then excuse myself
Get behind one of the barracks
Where I can be sick in privacy
Somebody’s got to hear me, but they leave me to it
And for their sake, when I’m done
I kick the ashy dirt over my mess
So nobody has to look at it

My humanity’s indulged
I go back out to do my duty
This is what they call “soldiering on”
Soldiers do the dirty work.