WAR SONG  - The poems on these pages are dedicated to the "song" of human combat. The honor, the bravery, the sacrifice.....and the horror, blood and death. It is neither a glorification nor a condemnation of war. It seeks to give some insight into one of the major occupations of Man from the very beginning of humanity.         -Carl Martin Johnson

 

© Carl Martin Johnson, All rights reserved

 
 

AMBUSH
By Carl Martin Johnson

I am a tiger in the night.
Deadly here I lie in wait.
The enemy will soon feel my bite,
To flee my claws will be too late.

I lurk beside this jungle trail,
Face striped in darkening hues.
If my mission I am not to fail,
I must blend in and confuse.

I concentrate to slow my breath.
My loud heart they cannot hear.
I smell the sick-sweet scent of death.
He is standing very near.

My eyes are opened fully wide.
I dare not even blink.
I cast conscious thought aside.
A time for reflex, not to think.

I can hear them coming,
Whispers, boots on dirt.
My heart speeds up its drumming.
I’ll quick wreak grievous hurt.

Rivers of sweat flow down my face.
Mosquitos stab for blood.
What I’m about to do may God erase.
I would leave it, if I could.

To heaven a quick prayer
To be forgiven for my sin.
An ambush is not fighting fair.
But let the fight begin.

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PURGATORY
By Carl Martin Johnson

From darkened doorways child eyes spied,
Wide in the jungle heat
The village quiet like its soul had died,
Been crushed in hard defeat.

The soldier walked point for the patrol,
All his senses on high alert.
He knew he had to keep control,
Or they’d be bleeding in the red dirt.

Yellow dogs nipped at his heel.
He kicked and they were gone.
He shook with a ghost’s breath he could feel.
It passed through him and moved on.

The wet silence bore into him,
Deep and rotting like a tomb.
He held fast, lest it subdue him
With its prophesy of doom.

He kept his weapon ready.
Sweat poured but he dare not blink.
His gaze swept smooth and steady.
Only instinct, no time to think.

No enemy rose to meet him.
The armed men must have fled.
No children ran to greet him.
That gave him a sense of dread.

He scanned the thatched roofs for any sign.
He could see no threat.
For an instant he glimpsed a shine,
But not enough to fret.

With raised hand he called his squad.
They moved forward with due care.
Their nostrils were filtering an aroma odd,
A stench of massacre in the air.

The shot that split the point man’s head
Was an echo from the past.
Muffled from long years of dead,
A warrior phantom’s blast.

The soldiers had come this way before.
The ambush had been real.
They were being killed once more.
Not by bullets they could feel.

There was neither shame nor glory
In the bloody way they died,
So this replay was their Purgatory.
For how long God will decide.

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RANGER IN THE RAIN
By Carl Martin Johnson

The monsoon rain washed off the blood
That streamed rust-red down his face.
He staggered forward through the mud,
At a wounded warrior’s pace.

He had sharp felt the bayonet,
But the pain was drowned by fear.
He swore not to die just yet.
He held life too dear.

All night long he lay stilled
Covered by dying and dead.
If he moved, he would be killed.
So, frozen, he cried and bled.

He listened to the enemy laugh,
Joking amongst his brothers.
It tore his soldier’s heart in half,
That he had not died with the others.

He passed out,and when he came to,
Hours had gone by, or a minute.
Maybe a lifetime for all he knew,
And this was Hell with his soul in it.

He alone lived in the field of death.
The enemy had gone.
He endured pain with every breath,
Yet he would carry on.

He crawled at first, then he stood,
Dragging himself along.
He would survive; he knew he would.
He was a Ranger; he was strong.

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DEATH’S LAUGH
By Carl Martin Johnson

What I thought was laughter
Was the death-rattle in your throat.
There was only silence after
Death’s music final note.

Your eyes are wide,
Yet do not see.
You need no longer hide
In this hole with me.

The shells still burst.
Shrapnel shrieks overhead.
But you have died first.
They can’t kill you any more dead.

I may join you soon.
If they come again, I’m gone.
Now I see the moon.
I doubt I’ll see the dawn.

Don’t hold it against me, brother,
That it was me who took your life.
If not me, would’ve been another.
We’re engaged in mortal strife.

Did you have those who’ll miss you?
I guess you probably did.
Some girl who lately kissed you.
A wife? Maybe a kid?

We don’t look much the same,
But still we are both men.
This war must take the blame
For both our “might have been”.

I wish I had not shot you.
‘Course, then you would’ve shot me.
I guess when war has got you,
It’s just what has to be.

Damn! That burst just played the Devil’s tune!
The shrapnel cut in deep.
Looks like I’ll join you soon.
Then we both can sleep.

I’ll be right behind you.
So, maybe you can wait.
I’ll hurry up and find you,
Just this side of St Pete’s Gate.

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THE SCAR
By Carl Martin Johnson

I saw a face this morning,
A face I might have known.
It sent me a grave warning.
It could have been my own.

A ragged scar, pale white with age,
Ran hard from cheek to chin,
Giving his visage a look of rage,
Like a battle about to begin.

An aura of great mystery
Exuded from his ravaged mien.
I could tell that his history,
Was a warrior’s, that was plain.

The eyes were iceberg blue,
Cold and hard, going blind,
That younger were warm and true,
And whose glance was ever kind.

Hard life had calloused his heart,
Yet tenderness was buried deep
Though he kept himself apart,
He had memories to keep.

Suddenly I froze in terror,
Knowing who that man might be.
I was looking in a mirror.
The face I saw was me.

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THE HAND
By Carl Martin Johnson

It was only the hand that I could see.
The rest of him was covered.
He was laid out next to me,
Where a young field nurse still hovered.

I was foggy from the pain
And the morphine she’d injected.
Weird thoughts slid ‘round my brain.
Random………Undirected.

Over the knuckles ran a scar,
Angry-red, deep, and wide.
From this or some other war.
On our, or the enemy’s, side.

Had he thrown it up to shield
When the bayonet slashed down?
Was he a man who would not yield?
The kind who held his ground?

The fourth finger wore a ring,
A band of simple gold.
A woman’s heart would grievous sting
When news of his death was told.

Maybe this hand reached to the sky
When a child, seeking a star.
Then the light was way too high.
Now perhaps it’s not so far.

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ALAMO
By Carl Martin Johnson

If every man must die,
Then let us die like men.
History will hold us high.
Defeat with honor is held a win.

Santa Anna is at the gate,
Hordes of lancers at his command.
Challenging Texans to armed debate
Will be harder than he’s planned.

The stars we see above us
Will light our martyrs’ way.
For the pride of those who love us,
We will not our land betray.

Let us breathe this cool night’s air.
It will be the last we taste.
Our fight will be our prayer.
Our blood not shed in waste.

A valiant death will soon embrace us.
Our memories will live on.
With hero’s laurels men will grace us
Long after we are gone.

One cannot kill the brave.
Courage is immortal.
Our names God will engrave
Above Heaven’s Warriors’ portal.

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NIGHT RECON
By Carl Martin Johnson

The jungle night was silent.
The death smells fresh and strong.
The wet air tasted violent.
The battle had not been over long.

The black paint on his face
Ran sticky with his sweat.
He looked out at the killing place.
The battle was not over yet.

Torn bodies scattered the clearing,
White clown-faced in the platinum light.
No more war sounds would they be hearing,
Wandering ghosts now in the night.

As he slid quietly through the underbrush,
He could feel them passing near.
Fleeing spirits whispering in the hush
Farewells to those held dear.

On the far side of the field
There was movement, half-hid light.
The enemy did not yield,
But they would fight no more tonight.

Tomorrow he would be killing.
Tonight he wanted peace.
Come day it could be his blood spilling,
But tonight the bleeding would cease.

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EXECUTION OF A MERCENARY SOLDIER
By Carl Martin Johnson

The sun is rising hard outside.
I feel its flames outside my cell.
This time tomorrow I will have died,
My soul feeding the flames of Hell.

There is no one to mourn,
No one to pray or grieve.
No “Taps” played on a horn.
Born alone, that’s how I’ll leave.

It is true I fight for pay.
For that I am often despised.
Still, when others run away,
It is then that I am prized.

My comrades may come free me,
Although I know the way things are.
If there’s a sacrifice it will be me.
I am expendable in their war.

I won’t waste time with regrets.
I freely chose the life I’ve led.
A free man can’t complain about what he gets.
I’ll do my moaning when I’m dead.

I’m feeling brave right now.
Can I make my courage last?
Will I refuse to scrape and bow
When the soldiers tie me fast?

When they march me to the wall,
When they aim their rifles straight,
Will I stand or will I fall?
Will I spit in the face of Fate?

I’m allowed to write this letter,
But I’ve got nowhere to send it.
It just makes me feel a little better,
Kind of a formal way to end it.

They are coming, I can hear them,
Their boots echoing on the stone.
That’s okay, I do not fear them.
I’ll walk my final steps alone.

I’d best say a quick prayer,
Hope God’s looking from the sky,
Ask Him to let me go where
Men like me are welcome when they die.

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TODAY WILL BE A GOOD DAY
By Carl Martin Johnson

I will make today a good day.
Who knows? Might be my last.
I’ll be worthwhile in some way,
Because my life is going fast.

This day is a happy gift to me.
It is not something I’ve earned.
Yet, each breath feels like a victory,
Death’s power overturned.

So I’ll pay back the favor
By bringing value to this time,
Leaving one deed for others to savor
On our common uphill climb.

Death’s razor has shaved me close,
And more than once has nicked,
But Life had not doled out my full dose.
I was not one the Reaper picked.

One day I must pay the fare.
The cost of living is dying.
I’ll be useful until I get there,
Or not for want of trying.

For now I’ll wake and bless each day,
Kiss the sun, bright in the sky,
Thank God I have come all this way,
And live hard until I die.

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A GAUL’S ANGER
By Carl Martin Johnson

Anger, come and feed me.
I have Hate, but I need your fire.
These Roman scum will bleed me
Of all I have entire.

They sack our homes and fields.
They kill our children, rape our wives.
Yet their swords and shining shields
We will defeat, though we lose our lives.

Vengeance, Hate’s bloody brother,
Come, ride upon my spear.
I am a warrior like no other.
These Romans will pay dear.

Through the trees I see them.
Red cloaks bright and eagle high.
Spirits from bodies, I will free them,
As, crying to their gods, they die.

We are Arverni, tribe of fame.
Where I stand is Arverni land.
Vercingetorix is my name.
Today Romans die by my hand.

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THE PATCH
By Carl Martin Johnson

When I found him he was breathing.
He gave a kind of grin.
The wound in his chest was seething,
Bloody holes where ears had been.

He had no tongue to speak.
Red foam erupted when he tried.
He made a sound more like a squeak,
Then he looked at me and died.

I cut him from the tree
Where the enemy had tied him.
I screamed to God my plea
That swift vengeance be not denied him.

I saw his torturers disappear
Into the jungle down below.
They now had much to fear.
They had made a deadly foe.

We three tracked them hard for days.
We were recon and light armed.
We hung back unseen in the tropic haze
That they feel not followed nor alarmed.

Lust for revenge sustained us,
Though they were many and we few.
The best of men had trained us.
We knew well what to do.

At last our prey grew lax.
With stealth we moved around them.
They were vulnerable to attack.
The hangman’s noose had found them.

We set ambush on an ideal site.
Crossed fire zones a lead guillotine.
Our claymores placed just right
No enemy would survive this scene.

At first light they moved past.
Twenty regulars, maybe more.
This day would be their last.
They were bound for Gehenna’s shore.

Worst of Hell’s demons would have run.
Our retribution so complete.
We meant to spare no one.
It was massacre, not defeat.

All were dead or dying.
I would have finished them were they not.
Yet none were cowardly crying.
They knew the justice of their lot.

I had the patch from our dead troop’s sleeve,
And I was determined my foe knew why.
We sought vengeance, not to grieve.
I wanted the butcher to see and die.

I held it to the leader’s eyes.
He nodded his admission.
Then his soul escaped to warriors’ skies,
Before I could exact contrition.

I would dream about it later.
At times I would feel bad.
I’m not much of a hater,
But just then I was glad.

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