Eli Wright

Revelations

When we arrived, it was like a parade.
They threw roses and smiles,
dusty kisses and cheap cigarettes.
Hopeful hands reached out from all around us,
surrounding us with enthusiastic welcome.
Tiny bare feet ran alongside our trucks
on scorching sand and broken asphalt.
They begged us
for bottled water and band-aids, pencils and candy,
little things that we empty-handed liberators
somehow forgot to bring.
And still their little thumbs pointed
toward the heavens
as if we had just descended down like angels,
to pull them up from their rags to our riches,
but the only treasure we brought
was brass and lead.
We were like little boys with handfuls of firecrackers,
running through the streets like we owned the place.
But this was no Independence Day,
and there were no angels in sight.
We stopped mistaking our helmets for halos
the moment things started to explode.
Our wings were traumatically amputated
by shards of ballistically manufactured shrapnel,
shredding our feathers to expose the bleeding demons beneath.

We were collapsing like buildings,
cracking like concrete,
as childhood myths and storybook fairytales
started to crumble at our feet.
We discovered that sometimes there are no heroes,
and war stories have no happy endings.

Some of us stopped believing in saviors then.

Game Over

Maybe it was our aimless idealism,
or misguided patriotism.
Maybe we just didn’t understand what we were
getting ourselves into.
Driven by the desire to serve some greater good,
or follow in the footsteps of our fathers.
Some of us needed money for college,
or wanted to see the world in a new way.
But we couldn’t find any other way to pay for it.
We wanted to prove that we were men,
So we took the oath,
then traded our Nintendo’s for M-16’s.
We started out pushing buttons,
ended up pulling triggers,
and it was like no game we had ever played before.
When we first tasted war, we became addicts.
Got hooked on bullet crack and artillery blast.
Every day one of us would overdose on sniper shot or IED.
Some of us never got sober, relapsed on 3 or 4 tours.
Wishing we could just go back
to playing video games or Cops & Robbers again.
But there was no reset button this time.
No getting back up after counting to ten.
Our eyes were sewn open,
unable to look away from horror stories
unfolding in front of us.
We came home incomplete,
with no words to describe
how our hearts are now beating us black and blue
for some of the things we had to see and do.
We all got what we asked for, in one way or another.
But maybe we bit off more than we could chew
and we’re still struggling to swallow it all.
We’re still choking on the truth that we were lied to.
And even though they said our war was over,
it sure doesn’t seem that way.
But hopefully,
one of these days,
we’ll finally make it back home.

Convoy Ops

We took their oath
They signed our sentence
Now we're lined up on the border
Like sheep being led to our slaughter

The thump of the mortars
and tracers in the sky
Welcome to Iraq
It's the 4th of July

Everything we touch with our weapons of mass-distraction
Covered in poison dust, destroyed beyond recognition
The sands are shifting and the rivers are running dry
The children are thirsty but too dehydrated to cry

A year at war
A lifetime defined
History is written
But time passes us by

I wish I wasn't a veteran
Stuck in the past
They tell me to move on
But the memories last

I just want to sleep again
Feel like a human again
Returning to a home that will never be home again
I never thought I'd write another poem again

Revelations

House Raids

Convoy Ops

Chantelle Bateman

I served as a combat medic in the US Army from 2002-2008 and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq from 2003-2004. Since 2007, I have been traveling whenever and wherever possible with Warrior Writers and Combat Paper to work with fellow vets in pursuit of creative pathways for addressing war trauma. I am currently serving as instructor and co-coordinator of the Combat Paper Project at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey.

eli@combatpaper.org