Colleen’s Weekly Tanka Poetry Challenge 6/24/2020: The Soldier and Story Traci Kenworth

“…Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time…”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Soldier

a man
broken, battered
wins valor on the field
he gives all, defends all gladly
hero

Adam struggled to raise his head. He didn’t know how long it’d been since the bomb dropped. The other men beside him lay or toppled in the dugout. Ringing clamored for his attention. He held his head. Calm. Stay calm. It isn’t over yet.

Would they come for him soon? Climbing over rubble and barbwire dipped in blood? He swallowed. Images drilled into him. Mary and the baby. His brother. His best friend. They’d both been taken years before in this long war. Was he to join them?

He bowed his head. Keep me strong.

Footsteps sounded above.

He drew back into the dugout. Was he to be a prisoner then? Did they even keep prisoners anymore? Maybe a firing squad would greet him.

When the silence drew on longer, he peered out. Men in robes scouted the area. Monks here? He rubbed his eyes. Were those—wings?

He lay back. Blood slathered his hand. Whose? Stars clouded his vision. He sank into blackness. Cold air woke him. Where had the angels gone? No one laid strewn about the dugout. He crawled to the top for a glimpse. Bombs and smoke had cleared. He climbed further out.

Barbwire snagged his pants. Pain battered him. Sweat glistened on his skin as he pulled at the wire to remove it. It had gone deep but was no worse than any of the other thousand wounds that scarred him. He crept through the field.

A light shone on him.

He covered his head and lay still.

The light departed.

His breath returned.

A light breeze cooled his skin. He sighed. What he’d give for air-conditioning and a home-cooked meal again. He continued on. The light swept the area again. Just as before, he froze.

What did it want with him?

Why wouldn’t it let him be?

Something touched his hand and he belted out a scream.

Hoarse, ragged, he thirsted.

Still no one appeared.

Was he the lone survivor of the war? Had he been caught in some Twilight Zone episode? Why didn’t his enemies recover him? He could do nothing to save himself.

He came across a pack. Dog tags in hand, he read what was written: To the lone soldier. May blessings find you.

With a shake of his head, he rummaged through the pack. Maybe there was something usual to be found. His hand curled around a bottle of water and he quenched his thirst. Deeper in, he found some jerky and a can of Spam. He hungrily devoured each. What else was in here?

He withdrew some Neosporin, gauze, and tape and dressed his wounds. Another search recovered a bottle of Ibuprofen. He smiled. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

“Can I help you, son?”

He jerked his head up.

Maybe it was the ringing. He’d just imagined it. He considered the pack and its contents again. Might come in useful. He strapped it to his back and pulled himself onward.

“You have no need to flee.”

He jerked left and right and beheld no one. What was happening? Was he losing his mind? Imagining it all? Perhaps he was asleep in his tent right now. The boys would sure have a laugh at his expense when he told them. He waited to wake but no sirens blasted the camp.

A shadow fell over him. As he looked up, he wheezed. Winged beings surrounded him. One gently squeezed his hand.

“You are safe with us.”

“W-who are you?”

They smiled. “Don’t you know?”

A memory from childhood hit him. Drawings he and his brother had done in Sunday school. “Are you-angels?”

They nodded.

The tallest gestured for the others to raise him up. “Time to go home, soldier. Your family awaits.”

A vision of his mother, father, and brother around the table at dinner delivered him to his chair.

“Pass the mashed potatoes,” his brother said.

His mother smiled at him and placed several pieces of turkey on his plate. Corn on the cob and honey-glazed carrots already resided there. He eyed the peach cobbler in the center of the table and grinned. His favorites. Now what had he been worried about? Ah. It didn’t matter. All days from here forward would be Thanksgiving Days.

Bestsellers in books. The Room Where it Happened. White Fragility. Too Much and Never Enough. How to be an Anti-Racist. The Vanishing Half: a Novel. Where the Crawdads Sing. Stamped from the Beginning. So You Want to Talk About Race. Untamed. The Ballad of the Songbirds and Snakes.

8 thoughts on “Colleen’s Weekly Tanka Poetry Challenge 6/24/2020: The Soldier and Story Traci Kenworth

  1. A spellbinding, riveting story, a little bit of a surprise ending that supports and reflects on another stanza in Longfellow’s poem.

    “Life is real! Life is earnest!
    And the grave is not its goal;
    Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
    Was not spoken of the soul.”

    Liked by 1 person

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