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Poetry and Medicine
August 3, 2011

Post Combat Compost

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

Author Affiliation: District of Columbia Department of Mental Health, Washington, DC (elspethcameronritchie@gmail.com).

JAMA. 2011;306(5):468. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.974

I was away too long this time.
The home garden is a mess of wiry
grass, morning glory vines, deformed squash,
rare small tomatoes still surviving.
I just returned from fifteen barren
months in a camp near Babylon.
Should I gently tug at the weeds, or
go with shock and awe?
I am in battlefield mode, seek and destroy.
Like how we bombed palaces in the Green Zone.
Disabled soldiers, old ladies, kids—beware.
I can always compost the remains.
But the small ripe orbs of tomatoes beg me
to spare them. I remember mass graves in
Kosovo, pacifiers among the skeletons,
those burned children in Baghdad.
Heading for the garage to get the axe and hoe,
I note gray tabby cat got another mouse. Or is it a rat?
I scoop the headless corpse into the raspberry bushes.
The cat brushes against my feet. Startled, I kick him.
Reminds me of starved felines in Mogadishu.
Settling myself, a combat vet, now home, I know that my
pet Shelties do not look like the feral dogs in Abu Ghraib,
where I kicked human bones everywhere I trod.
The gallows there had fires under them
to burn the feet of the hanging.
So I am compassionate. I pull weeds,
spare purple morning glories,
transplant errant chives and orange marigolds,
chop tomatoes and basil for salad,
wonder how to reenter so-called
civilization.
The raspberries will bear rich bloody fruit next spring.

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