Schooled on Brady’s Civil War photographs,
we’re used to the contorted art of broken bodies,
stumps instead of arms and legs, bloody skulls,
shattered bones and open eyes as deadpan
as the heads of five-nine shells;
used to cameras closing in on faces frozen,
expressionless from the shock and awe of terror;
used to tangled bodies of dead soldiers,
arms and legs and torsos jutting out
in every direction, so much driftwood dumped
by the ocean on a blasted beach; used to
Owen’s ironic dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
beating like bats trapped inside our heads.

But when we saw that photo of a single soldier,
gas-blinded eyes bandaged with a filthy rag
and mouth blown away by Verdun, sitting alone
on a cot, right then we went from thinking
we knew what war is to knowing
it’s that one young soldier with a cigarette wedged
in his nose, each nostril a beached fish’s gill opening
and closing, expanding and contracting,
smoke shape-shifting like the gas he couldn’t see.

Schooled, by George Drew