The Aftermath Of War

The morning dawns frigid and gray.
We all know this day will see the end
to the army of the barbarians
and that our victory will extend
Roman law and Roman peace
to this primitive place, plus bring
added glory to Rome and Caesar.
Victory means our return to Rome!

I am a Centurion. I have fought in four
campaigns in all corners of the Empire.
I wear many battle scars won in service
to the greater glory of Rome. Never have
I encountered more ferocious fighters
than these Celtic tribesmen, brave warriors
each, but an undisciplined rabble.

In formation my cohort is taking the field
when from the woods pours a yelling horde
of Celts, sworn by blood oath to fight to the death.
We form a turtle swiftly, break and repel their
wild charge, then begin our orderly advance.
The air is filled with the stamping of hundreds
of feet marching in step -- trampling noxious weed
and scented beauty alike, the clang of metal against
metal, the thud of metal against hide, the screams
of men and horses...the din of battle is disorienting
to the uninitiated. The air we breathe in carries
the smell of dust, sweat, fear, urine, and blood.

The battle rages for hours…attack and counterattack,
flank and be flanked, but steadily, inexorably,
the battle turns to our advantage. There is no army
in the world to match the superiority of Roman legions!
Their army of vertical warriors is becoming a field
of prone casualties - the dead and the maimed.
The brown earth wears a red paint. Bodies, severed
heads and limbs, appendages litter the battleground.
Groans of misery reverberate. I have witnessed this
scene too many times to care about the carnage.

I am leading my cohort forward when an arrow
pierces my left knee - an inconvenient wound.
Then a spear penetrates my right side. Falling
to the ground, I hear myself exhort, “Fight on,
my brave legionnaires, for honor and glory!”
I lie among the dead and the dying.
Pain clouds my mind. My life’s blood flows
into the ground. I press against my side wound
to dampen the hemorrhaging…

The early afternoon sun is overhead, warming
my body as it lies still among the forest of
felled fighters. All is quiet now, save for the
sporadic moans of agony from unrelenting pain.
The battle has moved into the far distance,
where the remainder of the courageous Celts
are being converted into an army of martyrs.
Vultures, come to feast on the foolishness of Man,
circle overhead cautiously, deliberately as they
select a likely tasty corpse. A large bird, bolder
than his peers, lands nearby, hops hungrily over
to my body, jumps on my chest, and pecks
with ardent vigor at my bloody wounded side,
ripping away flesh. Searing pain arouses me.
I lash out at the fiend, launching him into frantic
flight. I summon the strength to yell, “Not today,
old friend. This Centurion shall live to see Rome,
to see home and wife once again.” And I do…

Harry Edward Gilleland      03.19.03