Child soldier

The child-soldier never blinks —
he can’t. His eyelids were cut off
three days after his capture
because he refused to open them.
So instead he must weep without ceasing,
which makes his vision blurry.
Those running shapes —
are they men, women, goats?
His comrades put him on point
& he’s learned to spray bullets
at whatever he needs to see.
His face never stops twitching,
even in his sleep. The cloth he pulls
over his eyes trembles all night
like the surface of some teeming pool
on which newly emerged mosquitoes
rest, too light to sink,
feet splayed as if on the skin
of their first blood meal,
waiting for their wings to dry & harden.

11 Comments


  1. I wonder if it really serves any useful or educational purpose to aestheticize such horror. Even I can barely stand to read this thing.

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  2. Is that what you did, aestheticize it?

    Once it’s in the mind, it has to be processed somehow. (As I am writing comment now.)

    Perhaps someone like that deserves to have some sort of song sung. Witnessing.

    I don’t know any answers about something like this.

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  3. Well, me neither. But if what you suggest is true, another question arises: am I really the right person to be attempting such a witness?

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  4. Whilst on my writing course, much was said about the whether or not the ‘unexperienced’ poet should bear witness. Opinion was divided amongst the tutors…….Because of the enormous charge of emotion, I feel that poetry can educate like no other art (assuming the language/concepts aren’t too complex) and that this is one of the duties of the poet. I keep shelving a poem which is a reaction to a photographic exhibition of comfort women (though not ‘graphic’, simply head shots of women) because of worrying how to handle it……nobody questions the novelist’s inclusion of such matters. Yes, it’s a hard poem to read, Dave, but it’s well done and makes an important point.

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  5. nobody questions the novelist’s inclusion of such matters
    Good point! (Though I’m sure there are a few people who do question it.) Thanks for the thoughtful feedback. I for one would like to see that shelved poem…

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  6. Well, the moral considerations seem to me very difficult to parse out and in general I just don’t worry about the morality of writing poetry — even if what I do is wrong, it’s so far down the list of my crimes & misdemeanors it’s not worth bothering about :-)

    But I don’t think I could write like this without crippling myself. Not very much, anyway.

    (It’s a very good poem, by the way.)

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  7. it’s so far down the list of my crimes & misdemeanors
    Are you suggesting that writing poetry is not the single most important thing one can do? Hmm.

    Oh, and when do we get to see that list? :)

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  8. Crikey, even a casual visitor to my blog should be able to name half a dozen that outrank my poetic sins. You’ve already seen the list :->

    I wasn’t suggesting that writing poetry wasn’t the most important thing you could do. Only that it’s relatively harmless :-)

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  9. I’d be afraid to write this, if I were capable of it, but I think I need to think about why. If I’d simply read abut this as reportage, I would have closed down and turned away sooner, I think.

    When I hear of such things, it makes my aesthetic concerns seem paltry to vile, and the despair stops me wanting to make anything. But writing, art (hate that word) of all kinds has always needed to bear with horror and outrage, as well as the rest. Yes, there’s a danger of masochistic voyeurism, holidaying in other people’s misery, appropriation of voices and experience you’ve no right to, whatever. I’ve no answers either.

    Interesting (perhaps) you say you can hardly bear to read it, but not about writing it. Which process is the more removed, I wonder?

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  10. Hi. I’m tired, so… sorry-blah-blah
    :)

    The poem is good, and terrible, but I think you shouldn’t trash it for any moral dilema, because the truth is that child soldiers (and sexually abused) are out there, and the world hasn’t managed to stop that horror. So help is welcome, right? It might be hard to write, or read, but it’s harder to be there, so sometimes it’s good to make an effort, and at least, know. It’s important to know things even if we feel we can do nothing about them. Knowing them is at least something, an important something, and I think that when you sat down to write on this, you were trying to be next to that person, do something.

    Creativity with words, for me, relates to trying to reach people and/or trying to look for something for oneself.

    I stopped writing poetry when I realized images came to me so easily, and the music, that I was simply being dragged down, instead of being lifted up and away from the hole I was in. I found it was easier and addictive to write on suffering than to write on happiness, because in suffering we are alone and feel bad, but sometimes suffering is safer — at least we know how it works.

    If you are just using the “subject” then, it’s true, you shouldn’t share it. But if some news, some info, on this topic, on a child, moved you, you don’t need to have suffered, and you can use your creativity to reach out to people on that, or to understand that horror too, sure. Though horror turns out to be not-understandable.

    In any case, it’s good to be wary (?wary? – language question) – I mean, self-critical, in two ways:

    1. in if we are using a dramatic topic to make good poems (because due to our lierary traditions, we’ve learned to talk about suffering much more than to talk about happiness, as if suffering gave us depth and happiness made us idiots).
    2. if what we are saying about that topic or person is uninformed and deforming the reality we really wanted to show. I do think we need to be respectful, because abuse on the vulnerable goes on and on, but I don’t think that writing a poem — as said above — can entail much abuse, really…

    Reply

    1. Hi michelle – Thanks for delving into the archive (was it a related post link? There’s some similar imagery with my latest poem). I’d forgotten about this one.

      You make a lot of good points. Yeah, drama and suffering — conflict in general — is easy to work with, as an artist. Writing about happiness by contrast is very hard. Thanks for commenting, and if I don’t reply in similar detail it’s because I’m too tired to think clearly.

      Reply

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