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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 wirygrass, morning glory vines, deformed squash,rare small tomatoes still surviving.I just returned from fifteen barrenmonths in a camp near Babylon.Should I gently tug at the weeds, orgo 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 meto spare them. I remember mass graves inKosovo, 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 mypet 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 themto 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-calledcivilization.The raspberries will bear rich bloody fruit next spring.
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