Thursday, October 16, 2008

Of T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens in a war zone

Not long ago I returned to one of the JSSs (Joint Security Stations) I wrote about a while ago. The Soldiers there share a post with Iraqi Security Forces. It's pretty Spartan living: when we arrived last time, they'd literally just completed installing air conditioning in the place, which is pretty much all underground. The post had been operating for quite a while before getting some cool air circulating therein.

The guys still sleep on cots (I have a bed), and use port-a-potties (I have access to real toilets). They go on foot patrols in neighborhoods on a daily basis (I have only been out walking on neighborhood streets once; more on that in a later post). When they're "at home" there's not much room to stretch out, or go for a run, no PX (Post Exchange = shopping) or large DFAC (Dining Facility) -- there are designated running trails where I live; I can get to a number of PXs and to even more DFACs, if I have the keys to the truck.

Their life there is tough. They've been at it almost a year, and they still have four months to go. Fifteen-month tours are significantly longer than twelve-month tours. These guys are about to experience their second Christmas in a row away from their loved ones.

One of the Soldiers I met at that JSS studied poetry when he was in college before joining the Army. As a college graduate, SPC C's a bit older and perhaps a bit more given to introspection than many of his buddies of similar rank. Once we began talking about poetry, though he was dog-tired and needing to get ready to go back outside the wire, he perked up right away. We started flinging names at each other, finding commonalities and noting differences.

But we'd started this conversation about poetry after we'd finished celebrating Mass, and because of his impending mission, and my need to move on to another JSS, there wasn't much time to continue it. Before I left, I gave him the tiny, colorful Beanie Babies that Wendy W from Northville, MI sent me, so that he and his buddies could hand them out while on patrol. (Thanks, Wendy!!)

Since that day, SPC C and I have been exchanging emails and poems. I left him with Sarton; he suggested Levertov. I sent him Szymborska; he responded with Yeats. I shared Hopkins; he countered with Stevens. I'm waiting on Eliot, having offered him Rumi.

I sit here in my hooch safely typing this while he's undoubtedly out on foot patrol, again.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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