The Things We Carried
Sure, we wore the instruments of war:
The rifle, the bayonet, the pack, canteen,
And trenching tool. But these could be shed
For respite or based on assignment. But
What was always a burden, always wearing,
Was memory of home, the meals, aromas,
The holidays, the hugs, the warmth that did not
Make you sweat bullets, the worry about what
Jodie was doing with your girl back on the block.
Then there was the sense of self daily eroded,
Challenged and threatened, and always the fear,
The fear of loss of control, of loss of identity,
Of the unknown and the olive-drab known.
It was all this that we bore as we carried on.
First things first. The dog tags.
A poor man’s poor excuse
For fashion, a kick in the teeth
As far as aesthetics go. But better
By far than a leash or collar,
Which in their own way they were.
Certainly much better than a tattoo.
Their cheap jingle-jangle dead give-
Away when stealth is essential. So
We wrapped them with rubber or tape
To conceal our presence, if not
Identity. Name and serial number,
Lest I forget. Blood type: Red, A-plus.
Faith: None. All there is to know.
It was a weapon
Not a gun, he said.
I did not see the difference—
Weapon gun, gun weapon.
Either way somebody was dead.
But it seemed an important
Distinction to the drill sergeant
As he instructed us to strip
The weapon while naming parts.
Caress them with light oil, slowly,
Eyes closed, carefully inserting
Rod and cleaning patch into
The barrel moving it back and forth.
Learn to love your weapon, he said.
You will sleep with it. Treat it right
It would love you, save your life.
Make you a killer. Fucking gun.
Bruce Morton divides his time between Montana and Arizona. His poems have appeared in many magazines. He was formerly dean at the Montana State University library.