Part 1: Departure.
The ships left during happy times
Filled with young souls and minds
Unmindful of the torments
Of the land that lay dead in front of the transports.
The deck of the ship was fresh and clean
Without a hurting man yet to be seen
Cheers to the land of liberty
That is gonna bring death to tyranny.
Of what every man on the ship dreads.
Pain, sorrow, sadness,
A damning sense of doom
These we will greet very soon
These will stalk you in the land we are heading for
They seek out the next fatality
With whom they can grasp,
They are not concerned
The Reaper is starved
Hungry from his meager fast
The Death has an appetite for a feast
Now his dinner table is set up with the entire world,
Someone said to us before:
Do not worry, panic, debate
Do not lose your courage or your hope
Listen to these comforting words so that you can cope
Do not fear for your life
For it is in God’s hands
And the Death Reaper is not looking for us
So please men, do not fuss
All that is expected from you,
Through the day and through the night
Is to go ahead and fight
So go and kill and maim all those we hate
And I will make your very name very great.”
This was our hope that was on parade
Proudly we all marched with our valiant grin
Nevertheless my mind wandered into a cowardly shade
Anxious for this nightmarish apprehension to end.
Part 2: Arrival.
I felt like I was taken up,
And thrown into the sprawling mayhem.
My feet swell from the frost covered grass
My body was filled with shards of broken glass
I shrieked as the woman with the Red Cross pulled them out,
But the sight of the agony around drowned out my shouts
My bloody swollen feet masked the pains
Another hundred-eighty yards my troop gains.
We dig graves
Grave-digging for the dead and the living.
In the cheerless shelter of the trenches we lay
Commanded to create an advancing web of shallow tunnels
Our forces moves like an orb-weaver
Wary for the crushing boot lurking very near
That made our struggles a battle fought with shovels
Am I shoveling another brother’s grave today
I dig like I am digging for the treasure
Living is now the only pleasure
A thought runs over and over in my head
Without this damn ditch, I would be prone
This trench is my new home.
As I sulk through my miserable home,
With feet and hands blistered, scabbed to the bone,
I’ve seen what I never wished to know
Brothers who were close to me and who I lived for
Now are the carpets of the floor,
And the ashes our curtains,
And the chilling frost our blankets,
And the screaming our songs,
And the horrors our dreams.
I see our homeland’s flag torn
I live a life of loneliness in my new home
So when I need a friend, I eagerly conform
To the letters from my love
Silently cry to heaven above
That I might see her again.
Many women back home have given birth
And given love to a life on this earth
To find that the father of the infant
Has fallen into a grave on the battlefront
There must be many weeping mothers now
And the ladies back home
Will find themselves like lonely does that wait in vain
For the bucks that the hunters have slain
My thoughts center on bringing me and my brothers home.
We have teachers who instruct how to properly maim and kill
Yet we lack the teachers who know how to heal
Warriors who amputate, doctors who maim
These times are not the same.
Humankind becomes beastkind
Beside my shovel is my rifle
Civilization empowered it
Taught this tool to be very cruel
The rifle learned how to hunt animal
Now all it knows is hunting men
I use it to hunt those who are hunting me
I will not die as a like a damn helpless dear
The Reaper will not tread on me here
My shovel represents my will to live
My rifle represents my will to live
I toil with the shovel to live
I pull the trigger to live.
Recently my troop was struck with a mysterious sickness.
Everyone not yet dead was struck with the most horrid kind of influenza.
Sickly corpses are carried out
They are also martyrs of the war.
The disease brings down even the most noble of soldier,
Reducing them to another casualty of the war.
I weep for the first time when I recognized the corpse of one man
That man saved my life before,
Dragging me off of the battlefield when I lost consciousness.
What I later found out,
I learned that it was a poisonous gas cloud
That almost got to me.
To choke out the life of every last living, breathing thing.
The gas almost poisoned him,
Yet he had the courage to bring me out of there.
And there was nothing I could have done to save him.
Now the only cause to fight for.
The want for adventure and glory is no more.
I adopted the true warrior faith.
To not become the fallen hero.
And to prevent the death my own.
Blood of my brothers run like a stream in my trench
So I fight to run a river of blood through theirs.
The enemy is responsible for all this madness,
Are they not?
Part 3: The Scout.
One early morning, late in the winter,
A young man was on a patrol duty, and then
He ran back to the tents in complete terror.
My troop was startled awake by his shouts:
“I saw it, I swear, there it was, out deep in the woods,”
He stammers quickly.
The captain urges him to calm down and continue.
One in my troop thinks that the boy intercepted a surprise attack,
And has his gun ready.
“All dressed in a black robe, and he had some men with him.”
The excited and frightened young man declares.
We wonder what he means.
“I know it sounds crazy, but the person in black had a chain around the men,
And was leading them through the woods. They were speaking to the person in black,
But I couldn’t tell what they were saying.”
The captain asks, “Who were these men?”
“I do not know, they had the enemies uniforms on”
The captain then asks, “Who was the black robed person?”
“That is why I was scared; the person was a skeleton!”
No one said anything about the scouts outburst after that day.
I mean, all of us were stressed to our human limits.
It was understandable, I guess.
One winters evening,
The sun still out in daylight,
I had a scare like the boy,
Battle was at a short cease fire.
I was marching through the woods with my troop.
Sadly, the team was two members short;
The captain and the young boy fell sick to influenza,
In this cold weather, they died within days.
We were carrying them in their makeshift caskets with us,
To bury them somewhere in the woods.
We found a flat area and we buried them there,
Left two wood crosses with their names,
And the chaplain said the prayer.
Then we went on.
That feeling never leaves,
The feeling of dread,
It follows you around here.
You are not only afraid for your own life,
But you worry about losing someone you know.
That is the hardest fear to shake away.
It haunts you like a ghost.
Along the march, I noticed the silhouette of a flying bird;
It was a vulture,
Circling patiently up above.
I caught a fleeting glance of another one swooping down towards a clearing near a thicket,
The dim sunlight obscured the creature in a blur of darkness,
Yet I could see the cold, blank eyes of the vulture,
Suddenly I noticed the figure of a person.
The bird lands in the arms of the obscured person.
I turn to tell the others, but when I glanced back the person vanished like a phantom.
Disappearing into the woods.
Yet I sense that I have seen that phantom before;
And that I will see it again someday.
From my dear love
She carries a child
My legacy is not here
We all fight for something back at home
Love gives me the will to live now.
I want to be alive so my woman will see her kid's father.
I pull my trigger less, I dig deeper and harder
No more killing for me.
I do not want to see any more dying.
Part 4: Coming to A New Home.
It is over.
War is over.
Our ship arrived before the fall of night
Surprised that I was walking away alright
Surprised that I was alive,
Even surprised that we won
Not half bad,
But strangely, I feel very mad.
Upon arrival I sought what I missed most while in the faraway land
Not to the banks of worthless greed,
But to my sweethearts tender hand.
New respect for life
I love my home, my brothers, my wife
All these really matter.
I still have my rifle
It is mounted on my wall
And my guest admire it in awe
They want to ask questions, but they don’t
I left the rifle on permanent retirement
It hangs there quietly
Content as being a symbol of my duty.
I still have my shovel
It is mounted to my shed
I used it to cultivate many gardens
I still put it to use
I toil with it to cultivate life.
I want to forget.
Pieces of shrapnel was easily removed in full
But no surgeon has yet to remove this dread
From the depths of my head
Where memories were shot into my skull.
I cherish serene dreams,
Because they are so seldom seen
I hate snapping awake in twilight
To escape a vivid fright.
There is glory in peace,
This is more than true ,
Can we put down the guns,
Fill up the trenches.
Without picking them back up
And digging new ones.
Instead let us lift up
Our nation’s banner,
So that people oppressed afar
Will journey to a land so dear
To a land where this kind of war
Is not a fear.
Part 5: Decade Later
The final battle
It hits unexpectedly.
I did not know or expect
I was just working in my field
I shovel a scoop of dirt
Reminded of the trenches
Reminded of the life in the trenches
Reminded of the blisters and grime
How close I was to the end of my time
How close I was to meeting Father Time
The Reaper won my respect
The Death walked proudly
All on the battle field respected The Reaper
Yielding to his call for some was more rewarding than the agony endured
He made a deal with many brothers
Took them to a peaceful place
To get away from misery.
After the victory
We thought we caught the Reaper
After the victory that we had fought
We thought we put The Death under a heavy lock
Took away the Reaper’s scythe
For a short while at least
Now he has been released again.
The Death set our land ablaze
Fields turn to rust
Man’s greed turns to lust
Recession to Great Depression
Prosperity was beaten
Put under a heavy lock
Great Depression swept us up
I lived the Great War
I am one of the Great Warriors
Will I fall to this attack
An attack on my fields
My family will not go hungry on my watch
I evaded The Grim Reaper’s gaze many times before
I will avoid his stalking gaze once more
But now The Reaper is hardened
Like the hardened warrior that I am
He has brought my countrymen into starvation
Introduced a new severity of life to my nation
Pain, hunger, sorrow
Stalk us in our own land
The reaper has reached out his hand
Handing out charity
A way out of the misery
To the grave now is easier
Than to bear starvation.
I infuriate over my field work
I shovel a once plentiful garden
Now torched, ashes wisp away
Ashes cover my land
The Reaper wants me to give up
I made this land, my home
All I wanted after sailing back
Was to make a new life for my girl and my baby
Now I shovel
I rather this grave swallow me
Than anyone else,
Especially not my wife.
I want to rest
My hands swell from the splinters
From the shovel's wooden shaft
This day is worst than hell
For it is the day that my girl fell
To what no one was sure
Why did she become so suddenly ill
My neighbors stand around to help
With their silent respect
I am not the only one who feels this loss
Many of my friends and brothers have lost
A lot more
A whole lot more
I still have my little girl
And holding on to the hope
This battle rages in silence
Tears, Silence, Regrets
I clasped my blistered hands
Looking to the sky
Looking to what I have left
My legacy that means more to me
A honored hero of war
No longer means anything to me anymore.
The grave filled and final goodbyes said
They leave me be
I know that the Reaper has more to take from me
For I know how starved he can be
War showed me how great his appetite is
He will not stop for no one.
Our army thought we defeated The Reaper
Took his scythe from his cold, deathly hands
Peace shall we always live
War to end all wars.
A decade later, he is awakened
He brought a new battle,
One unfamiliar in the land of liberty
He brought this horrible famine
Guns and warfare were not enough
Now he attacks at the throat and guts
Security is gone, and dead
The land of liberty is hit with poverty
Chained we are to our sickness
He is here,
In my country.
I can sense his presence.
Part 6: The Relentless Struggle.
One well on my property went dry today,
A little earlier than expected.
I was planning on leaving with my daughter
To find a new and more hospitable home,
Than here in this burned out wasteland.
We needed that water for the trip out of the valley area.
Fortunately, there is water hidden underground,
I dig a trench
Searching for the hidden source of water.
I have to try.
The scorching sun
Puts sunburns on you instantly.
As I strike the shovel atop the cracked ground,
Caked with the dust that is known to swallow up entire homes,
I hear in my mind the gunshots
I have not forgotten.
I am familiar this line of work.
It saved my life.
Now the pains of the blistering on my hands
My thirst urges me on
The little girl’s thirst and cries makes me relentless.
Suddenly the wind turns sour
I feel the shadowy presence,
A strange chill in the air.
I turn and see
Clad in a black robe
Hood over his old withered face
Terrible smell of the grave
This was the ghost of the afterlife,
The Timekeeper, the Death, the Reaper
Yet I am not trembling in fear
The mere thought of him ten years ago
Put sheer terror in my heart
Maybe the war took the fear away from me
The fear of the Death,
But, I am still fearing something else …
I notice the Reaper is holding out a silver timepiece,
A small clock, like a watch on a silver chain
The Reaper lifted this watch from one of his sagging sleeves,
He now speaks,
“see this clock, it is yours”
He must of known I would have been confused, so the Reaper continued,
“It keeps track of your time here,
When it stops, your life will cease.”
The Ghost of Terror now reveals why he is here speaking to me.
“Your time is up.”
Brief silence, interrupted by my cheerful sigh.
I find myself telling him thanks.
I now can see her again.
But then I peek over to my house in the distance.
My daughter is visible through the window of my home,
Unaware that her father is confronted by the Ghost of Death
The one responsible for the great bloodbath that was the Great War,
Not more than ten years ago.
She was born a year before that great devastation would finally end.
I ask the ghost, my executioner, about my daughter
She cannot be left all alone,
Not by her father too.
Yet the Reaper has more to say.
“Yet that could change.”
The old ghost pulls from his dark, black, tattered robe a handful of papers;
They are yellowed letters, and he held them out as a pile of cash,
“Do you remember these?”
A smile on the face of the ghost appears
And I grimaced, from the memories.
“These were from her, ten years ago”
Those were the letters that I received while on duty during the war
I cannot believe that he had them
The old ghost grins, insultingly
“I should thank you. Because of you I began to learn how you survived.
I want to tell you that your time ended over ten years ago.”
I squint my eyes
The ghost smiles,
“I was on my way to retrieve you, as I did to all the others.”
Now I began to feel upset. Did he mean that he took my entire squad?
Are they the “others?”
“Your clock stopped, like all the others, so I came for you,
But then, I was baffled how your timepiece restarted
Like a candle flame that survives a gust of wind.
Curious, I found you in your trench, with these letters.
It seemed that whatever these scraps of filth had to say
Had rewound your time and made you new again.”
I still remember how I felt like I was being watched, mysteriously,
Like an enemy was spying from a short distance,
It was a ghost all along...
“She gave you strength didn’t she?
Gave you the will to live.
That is what makes life invincible.
You see, war makes my thirst quench easily
War is nothing like love.
Love makes life too strong for me to grasp away.
Hatred is what makes life easy to steal away.
That is why I could not take you then
All because of the love you had.”
Reviled that I am hearing this, the ghost continues;
“She gave you the will to live.
So, now I am finally aware of the great weakness that your nation possesses.
Now I know how to finally defeat your great nation.
I now can have my revenge for what this nation has done to ruin me.”
The Reaper scowls,
“Your armies crushed the blade of my scythe, broken my hand,
Dethroned my short four year rule over that faraway land.
In famine, In poverty, In pain
Your nation will suffer”
Breathing heavily, trembling
Partly in fear, but mostly in anger.
I listen to more,
Of this phantom’s words of horror;
“I learned your weaknesses from yourself, my brave warrior.
When I took her away from you and your daughter,
I noticed a change in the pace of your timepiece,
Every minute after you saw her last breath leave her
The dials and gears of your clock lessened their movements,
They will stop any moment now.”
Strangely, I notice that he is right, I do not feel totally alive.
“See, without your will to live you are nothing but a dead man.”
A cold presence fills my back, I no longer feel the blisters on my hands and feet,
The all too familiar hunger that constantly persisted from the meager times
That came with the famine and scarcity that swept suddenly across the land
It is just a mere ping in my stomach...
“Yes, by taking my blade away, I no longer could feast the way I was
During the war anymore -- No thanks to your nation that meddled with me.
But all is not lost. I can still satisfy the hunger in a new way.
Your nation will lose hope when I take their precious prosperity away
Like when I took the women that you loved away.
This ‘Land of Liberty’ will fall as a land of chains and gates when I’m done.”
The Reaper lifts off the obscuring hood completely, revealing his scars from battle
That gash across his scalp.
“Yet, something is still keeping you going right now, what could it be?”
Brief pause, then both my gaze and his gaze turn back to my house.
“Ah, I see.”
Now I feel it,
I can feel it beating again.
He notices that the watch that moments before marked my end
Is now running at normal pace.
“So you really are not ready to go yet afterall.”
His expression changes, he looks me straight in my eyes.
In them I caught a glimpse of what ravenous hunger he possesses.
“So my noble friend, I give you my apology.
You must have more life in you than I thought.
I regret that I cannot take you to her yet.”
The reaper grasps his chin. His eyes roll slightly upwards.
“Or can I?”
Mentioning my late wife, he compelled me to approach closer.
“Well my poor man, who am I?
Am I not the Keeper of Souls?
I can bring her back.”
My heart leaps, but something seems wrong.
His narrowing eyes tell a more sinister story which will soon unfold.
Part 7: A New Deal.
About four and a half yards away,
A patient vulture settles down on top of my shovel,
Left shoved into the ground.
The sun beats down hard across the noon time landscape.
All vitality dried away
By a sinister phantom.
A lone house sits across from a battle raging.
A weary man – all too familiar to battle.
Helpless to the whims of this mighty foe.
Yes, he remembers the toll this evil had on the world.
Now this evil master suffers to strangle the life out of the ones
That put him through the humiliation of defeat.
The conversation continues…
“Can you bring her back? Really? … Wait. Why would you want to do that?”
I ask. I heard stories kind of like this before.
I will be soon struck with a deal.
The reaper looks to my house and directs a finger of his skeletal hand
Towards my daughter whom is barely visible in the window.
“To bring someone from the grave
I only accept that someone else go and fill it instead.”
I About to protest, he adds, raising both of his withering hands,
“Allright, I knew that this would be hard for you to accept,
So I would like to show you something that will help you understand.”
Cautiously, the ghost lifts out from his black robe another watch.
The harsh sunlight gleams off of the bronze surface of it.
The chain swings it slowly side to side.
Holding it out to my view, he flips open the cover
To reveal the image of my sweet precious daughter on the face of the dial.
“As you can see, this clock marks the end for your child,
Just like yours and just like your late wife’s.”
With a twist of the wrist from his other hand
He reveals a second watch of gold.
On a chain as well.
The image on it is of my lovely wife, who stares back at me.
“I regret to inform you
That the dials on your daughters timepiece
Move very slowly now.
With her mother gone, she is too sad,
Weakened by grief.
Sorry to say that she probably won’t survive.
Times are just too hard now,
Especially for such a young and frail child
Like your daughter.”
The phantom tosses a watch at me.
Now I am given a choice that would break the heart of any man.
Part 8: The Final Battle.
Opening the watch,
I see the face of my wife,
She looks sorrowfully at me.
And I know that I look even less cheerful right now.
The pain of the blisters return.
I feel scorched by the heat.
I realize that I am holding what is left of her life.
“Here it is good man.
All that needs to be done
Is for you to twist that dial
To wind that clock back up,
Again you can be with your wife.
And then, I will ensure that your child
Will no longer endure the pains of this life.”
After saying that he grasps the dials on my child’s timepiece,
To say that he will turn that dial completely off,
Once I have rewound this watch.
I find my trembling left hand reaching for the dials.
The lovely face of my love is unbearable.
Yet I can see tears of disappointment in her eyes.
I stop. He urges me.
“Yes go on.
I cannot do anything until you finish your part of the bargain.
What do you really have to lose?
You have the opportunity to live a full life with her again.
You deserve it.
I watched you fight gallantly on the battle field.
I want to see how strong you are,
For sure you can survive this famine as well.
Just twist it, and then the pain you have been suffering will cease.”
“For what?” I speak out.
My voice is almost too raspy to force out the words.
“For what will I gain by this?
What do you mean?
I will tell you.
That my daughter now means too much to me.
Do you really expect me to give my innocent child away,
To my greedy desires?
I will not do it.”
The phantom’s eager expression vanishes from his face.
In slight frustration he snaps shut the watch he holds.
Emotionally, I continue speaking my thoughts.
“Well you say I am some kind of hero.
People say I am a hero, only because I was cowardly enough to survive,
And brave enough to kill my enemy.
Yet what kind of man would give away his child?
All through the war I was told over and over again
That I we were making a legacy for ourselves.
That we would come back a uplifted heroes.
Yet I watched as many of my closest brothers died
As fallen heroes.
I still hate that I was spared while they didn’t.
So, I promised myself that I will not let their dream die.
I came back wanting to create a new legacy for the loved ones I had remaining.
All I fought for,
All they died for,
Was really to protect the life and freedom that this nation holds so dear.
All I fought for was to keep our home free from oppression.”
Slowly the vulture that had landed on my shovel flew off.
Not far though.
The phantom loses his confident grin completely.
His silence urges me to speak further.
“You believe that my love for my wife was what kept me going.
You are right.
But there is more to my love than my desire to be with her
And have her company, and her friendship.
My child defined our love.
The letters. The ones you have shown me.
I remember one.
It was written about two months after I first set foot in the trenches
She wrote that she carries our child.”
Tears combined with resentment and pain, I tell the phantom,
“All those years.
It was over a year before I could finally see her for the first time.
It made me realize that I was fighting for more,
More than honor,
More than glory,
More than victory even.
From that day, my will came from what legacy I create
That can out live even myself.
I point to my home.
Even though we could not see my daughter in the window at the moment,
I knew that she was sad – she did miss her mother.
“And you want to know something Death?
I thought everything of my wife.”
The phantom folds his arms across his chest.
Maybe I over spoke his patience, but I am not afraid now.
“While I was gone, I knew one thing was safe:
The love between us.
I never worried that she would, in secret,
Stop loving me.
Stop praying for my return.
And our daughter ensured that the bond would never be broken.
My wife was a real hero.
If you want to give praise,
Let it be for her.”
The sun begins to approach the horizon.
Long shadows are cast.
The man and the phantom cast a long shadow
The shadow touches the house in the distance.
A deep, breath I sigh, then I finally ask for a new deal.
“You know something, I realize that I owe her a lot.
It was her that kept me going.
Her letters of tenderness, compassion, understanding, encouragement.
Her words of passion, grace, power.
They kept me going.
She made me strong enough to survive even your greatest attacks of your blade and fury.
Yet, I could not make the frail women strong enough to survive this…”
I wave my hand across the desert of dust.
Devoid of its former sustainable bounty.
I shake my head, and whisper to myself.
“She helped me, and I couldn’t help her.”
Clasping my wife’s timepiece, I shout,
“I want to help her now.
And no, I will not disappoint her by giving away our child.”
The reaper’s eyes now widen with amazement.
He breaks his silence,
“Do you want to make an offer?”
Bowing my head, then I look straight into the eyes of the phantom.
Will you give my daughter more time
If I give her more of my time?”
The phantom frowns,
“Well, if you want,
But I cannot guarantee her longevity or health.”
“Then take all the health and vitality from me.
Give it to her.
I know that you can do that.
Yes. It would be better.
I am a strong soldier at heart.
She could use that same strength.”
The phantom’s expression turns almost fearful.
“But then, how do you intend to survive?”
After I twist my neck to yank a kink out,
I finally tell him what I wish to do.
“I will go.”
The Reaper stiffens.
“You wanted my daughter in order to wake my wife from the grave,
Not many moments ago.
So, you will get me instead.”
Moments following the offer I made,
The reaper begins to pull out a chain hidden in his sleeve.
I knew that it was mine.
“Are you sure that you will have me silence this clock forever?”
The ghost appears awestruck. I am just doing something I know is right.
I remember the watch I am grasping.
“I will wind her clock back up right now.
If you are going to shut down a clock, let it be mine.
Do not touch hers. The child will live.”
At last I find myself turning the dials on the golden timepiece.
After four turns, I can already hear the faint ticking of the gears.
I take a look at the phantom and I feel a grin on my face.
He then understands that I have decided to go through with this,
And he reveals the watch on the chain,
Holds it out between two fingers,
As if reminding that he is also serious,
And then grips the small knob and turns it.
It seemed like minutes passed by and we were still meddling with our watches.
Then I felt it.
The hunger from the famine faded,
So did the pain from my blisters and splinters on my hands,
The beating of my heart slowed like the ticking of my dying timepiece.
It was happening…
“Tell them both that I love them for me.”
I found myself struggling to utter those last words.
Before I finally collapsed I took a last long look at my home.
I peeked at the ghost, who -- true to his word
Was turning the dials on my daughters bronze-colored watch
I noticed that he must be extending her time
For he rotated the hands clockwise,
While he rotated the hands on my silver timepiece counterclockwise.
I have no more regrets.
I thought, before I collapsed…
Soon I will see my fallen comrades in the land of the resting.
Soon I will be a rest, in eternal piece,
And my legacy will never cease.