Wednesday Poem

“In war there are only humans, method and grief.”
………………………………….. —Enoch Smith

Song of the Forward Artillery Observer

I saw them first as the ghosts I would make them,
Green in the sorcery of Starlight.
Don’t put them under the trees, I willed him,
It’s tombs not foxholes they’ll dig themselves there,
But he put them under the trees. I killed them
First on that hill, with tree-bursts in mid air.

Don’t run them out over the saddle, I pleaded,
You want concealment not speed, go downslope
To bush—but fear knew what it needed;
They bolted up over the saddle. That’s when
I cursed him, adjusted, and killed them again.

For God’s sake west not south I yelled, the winds
Have changed and the shadow’s gone, but south
Was the way he took them. Where the valley bends
I hung my rounds in the monsoon’s mouth
And got that extra half second’s fall
When they bunched at the river, and I killed them all.

I say my one prayer in quietest numbers
Always heard to the hilt: in less
Than a year I built cathedrals of bones
Where a thunderous god descended to bless
My enemies in their benightedness
And left them prostrate, confirmed among the stones.
by Rob Schwab

Notes. Most infantry units had an FAO assigned whose specialty was to call in and adjust artillery fire. His messages to the artillery support bases, usually miles away, were brief and almost completely numerical.

A Starlight scope is a night-vision device that intensifies ambient light and shows everything in shades of blurred green.

A shadow, with reference to artillery, is a place theoretically within range but one that cannot be hit because of interposed terrain features or wind, or a combination of both.

Enemy dead counted in the field were said to be confirmed.