Young Men At War

War is a monster brought to life by old men who safely sit,
as it gorges upon the lives of young men who must submit.

A civil war has broken out south versus north.
Now former friends and relatives find themselves
on opposite sides of a front moving back and forth
within their country. Today a ceasefire shelves

all hostilities while the diplomats try to negotiate
a peace agreement. A squad of militia from each
army patrols a town each side hopes to consolidate.
Approaching from opposite directions, they reach

the center of town to unexpectedly confront one
another. The air is tense; the soldiers half-expect
a fight to ensue. Each young man grips his gun,
nervously looks around, then draws himself erect.

The two lines of men stand immobile, all waiting
for a move to be made. A small boy in a doorway
kicks a soccer ball toward a soldier. Hesitating,
the soldier begins maneuvering the ball to display

his skill at soccer. He lets his rifle fall as he bounces
the ball from foot to foot, as a smile comes to his face.
Then he kicks the ball to the other side. A boy pounces
forward to control the ball, as another starts to give chase.

Soon laughter erupts; both sides lay down their weapons,
and a soccer game breaks out. These soldiers are all mere
boys in their teens or early twenties that Fate happens
to have turned from countrymen into adversaries here.

For a short time on this day, they revert to just being boys
again playing a game. War and death grant them a holiday.
Sadly, all too soon, once more they must give up their toys
and become men at war, prepared to die, prepared to slay.

An officer drives up and begins yelling for them to act
like soldiers, to pick up their rifles, to resume their patrol.
As quickly as it began, the soccer game dissolves. Back
to being soldiers, they become men under a war’s control.

As they walk away, there is not a word to say…yet the eyes
hold such a sadness that at their next meeting someone dies.

Harry Edward Gilleland      11.10.04