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Poems submitted by our readers late in 2004

  Some new Remembrance Day poems can  be found on the   Remembrance Page
 
Back to Index First World War Poetry More poems about Iraq

Authors

Sierra Leone poems, written from a deep acquaintance with the country  Mark Jones 
Distant Death and Imminent Ignorance Carl P Monaghan
Poems by Chris North, A former Bomb Disposal Officer with the British Army Royal Engineers, now involved in de-mining operations in Iraq. Chris North
Hal Sirowitz, a poem from New York Hal Sirowitz
Kevin John Skinner, formerly in the army, writes from Kosovo Kevin John Skinner
Two poems by Colin Awcock Colin Awcock
Their Problem Our Solution by Damian Mcarthy Damian Mcarthy
Broadmoor Blah  about war lies and spin

IPP Awards  -  Lord Button of Brownose    Bitter comparison of presentation and reality

Michael Culver
Out of my Hands.  -  Written when hostages were taken in Iraq. Glyn Norton
To Any Soldier in Iraq  -  Heather Olsen's admiration and sympathies are with the soldiers Heather Olsen
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Distant Death and Imminent Ignorance

The heart sings a silent song,

For the soldiers far away,

A solemn tribute to the lives,

Of those that died today.

We do not feel their pain,

Or see the atrocities they saw.

It's our ignorance that justifies,

The futility that is war.
 
 

The heart cries the driest tear,

In contempt of our enemies' cause,

But I ask you would we feel the same?

If the ideals lost had been ours,

No man may look on unbiased,

On the fanatics of yesteryear,

But must the ideas we form tomorrow,

Be the source of more hatred and fear?

Carl P. Monaghan.

20/1/02

This poem is more about the ethics of war in general than any particular conflict. Though I feel it can be more readily applied to the more recent conflicts in the Gulf.  -  CPM

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Introduction by Chris North

June, July 04.

 I am a retired British Army Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officer, I left the army in 97 after 20 years service, since then I have been working in war zones around the world, clearing mines and explosive items and teaching and supervising others.

I served in the Army from 1977 to 1997, first as an soldier in the Royal Engineers Parachute Squadron, with this unit I served in Northern Ireland and also the Falklands war, then most of the rest of my career was with the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Regiment.  I am married to my lovely wife Janice and have two great kids, Andrew and Denise, all of whom give me great support in my chosen career.

Both during my time as a soldier and since as a humanitarian deminer, I have been writing poetry. Tthe main reason for this was to act as kind of a self therapy to ease the distress of some of the things I have seen, dealt with and heard.

Most of this work was destroyed by me as once it had been written. Iit had served its purpose.  In 1997 I was persuaded by a desk top publisher, in my home town of Dunoon on the west coast of Scotland, to not destroy any more (one of the previous poems had survived and he was shown this by my wife. I include this poem in this e mail.War Trade), since then I have saved a lot of my stuff, since then a few poor attempts at desktop publishing with a view to selling some small poetry books to raise funds for mine clearance charities have failed. The charity i was involved in was Handicap International. This charity has offices world wide including UK and Lyon in France. The web site is www.handicap-international.org.uk

I do not consider myself as a poet although a few journalists have referred to me as the poet deminer.. A label I dislike, the poetry I write I am sure is not technically good poetry, but it is written for a different purpose than scholastic recognition. 

All the work is either based on factual events that I have witnessed or been told about by those affected, or based on my feelings as a deminer and as a father and husband, working away from the family he loves for long periods of time. 

I am not sure that any of the stuff is worthy of inclusion on your web site but you may find some of it interesting. 

Chris North, QA/QC advisor, Demining and EOD, Southern Iraq, Thuraya 

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War Trade

It's quiet here amongst the hills

Not far away fresh blood spills

A mother rocks her child with a love so great

While old friends confront each other with hate

Buildings blaze and bullets fly

And every day the homeless ask why
 
 

The women folk weep for husbands and sons

Who fight their neighbours with rockets and guns

Civil war rages in Europe's back yard

When you're fighting for peace the vengeance is hard

Deep-rooted hate is set in each mind

And each act of violence is answered in kind
 
 

In a few short weeks from here we'll be gone

But the shooting and killing still rages on

We go back to our homes where war is no threat

But the fight will go on for many years yet

The death toll will rise amid rivers of blood

Another cease-fire!! Will it do any good
 
 

The young are the innocent but as they grow 

Will war become the only trade they know

They inherit the battles that their fathers start

Draining the life from a country's sad heart.

The death and destruction make strong men cry

But still they fight on, the grieving ask "Why?"
 
 

Chris North
 
 

Who Knows

It's when I'm alone that it starts to bite

When I've nothing to do and it's late at night

These thoughts creep in

Evoking worry like sorrow

Will I survive the day or be killed tomorrow
 
 

Will the next landmine I touch

Be the last thing I see

Will I be killed or maimed

What will happen to me
 
 

I'm sure it won't happen but

I know that it might

These thoughts come to haunt me

Sometimes in the night
 
 

When night drifts away and

 Morning seeps through

My confidence returns in the things that I do

Worries recede as the morning turns bright

I am eager again to get on with the fight
 
 

Those haunting memories

Seem like decades away

But they return at the end of each day

Confidence deserts me

The day draws to a close

Will I survive or die tomorrow

Who knows?
 
 

Chris North

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The Spuds Are Alright

In fields so recently sowed

The potatoes begin to grow

But today a child lost her life

All because she didn't know
 
 

She didn't know she wasn't allowed

To cross the field to school

How could she be expected to know?

That the farmer would be such a fool
 
 

She only took the shortcut

Because she didn't want to be late

She didn't know this shortcut

Would seal her tragic fate
 
 

Along with the rows of potatoes

The farmer sowed mines beneath

To protect his few pounds of vegetables

From succumbing to a thief
 
 

But it wasn't a thief who found the mine

So cunningly hidden from sight

A sweet innocent child so tragically slain

But the potatoes they are alright.
 
 

Chris North

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Sierra Leone, 

Introduction by Mark Jones

Sierra Leone is a small, yet remarkable country. A West African paradise in so many ways; a land of great physical beauty, abundant in flora and fauna and rich with potential. Its inhabitants are imbued with an extraordinary religious tolerance and a passion for learning. To its credit it is a nation that has chosen to be free of bitterness or rancour about the colonial era. Saloneans cherish life and are generous of spirit. It is as if these people are inspied by the example of Bai Bureh, Thomas Clarkson, Toussaint L'Ouverture and William Wilberforce.
 
 

Yet, the very name Sierra Leone is synonymous with images of forced amputations, conflict diamonds and child soldiers. In recent times a brutal war ravaged the land for just over a decade. The effects of this salamandrine conflagration have certainly laid the country low. The putrid stench of corruption now wafts through the corridors of power and sadly, the judiciary seems content to wallow self obsessed in its dotage. Issues such as child trafficking, deforestation and the blight of Female Genital Mutilation have yet to be addressed, whilst HIV and AIDS have begun to take their toll.
 
 

It might seem that a demi-Eden has been lost, but my experience of Sierra Leone tells me otherswise. Whilst the people may be materially poor, they are spiritually rich. The poems that follow are my musings and thoughts about the dark days, that God willing, are now at a close.

Mark T Jones.
 
 

Kingharman Road Girl

Fly-blown hopes lie caressing the curb

Her sores a nation's stigmata

Would a pye-dog lick thy wounds ?

Or skirt round you like the tide of your brothers and sisters.
 
 

If we could pause but for a moment and prise open your mind

We too would seek safety in cold stone

Stone far more loving than human hearts

Judgement passed, we hurry on blind, sightless, caring not.
 
 

[The traumatised girl described in this poem had been raped by rebel soldiers and had had her parents and elder brother butchered before her very eyes.]

Mark T Jones

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The War Lord - a poem written to be read by two people.

 

 Cut, thrust, plunge

Slash, slit, stab

Starve, mame, shoot

Torch, burn, scar
 
 

The trumpets herald you with regal glory

Epaulettes glisten and medals gleam
 
 

Plunder, loot, steal

Blind, brand, rape

Curse, crush, kidnap

Smash, torture, kill
 
 

Your arrival is welcomed with carpets of steel

Ramrod backed your subjects hail you
 
 

Bind, bludgeon, bury

Garotte, impale, castrate

Order, imprison, enslave

Censor, cajole, destroy
 
 

Your scarlet cape billows as yuou sense fresh converts

Ever more shrill their praises grow.
 
 

Barren, bleak, blackened

Shattered, sterile, stricken

Torn, poisoned, defiled

Bloodied, emtombed, rotting
 
 

The prize presented on some stolen silver

A maggot riddled remnant of a once serene world. 

Mark T Jones
 
 

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Bepalmed 

Swaying fronds beckon

Agile men ascend to steal your sustaining source

Let nature through fermentation take its revenge

Your milky sap saps and turns heads soft.

Soon mortal thieves sway frond-like and beckon

Agile men to take them to their rest.
 
 

[The citizens of Freetown were in a celebratory mood on 10th September 2000 for thanks to Operation Barras a maverick militia group called the West Side Boys were defeated by British forces. As a Brit that day there was no escaping the local palm wine - powerful stuff that could floor an elephant!]

Mark T Jones
 
 

The Camp - Sierra Leone 2000

Did Peter Brueghel paint here ?

Bestumped innocence sears my sight

How many tears could wash away such a scene ?

Time affords us no such quantity.
 
 

Satan's flail has done its work

Limbs harvested and yet unused

Shattered lives as broken columns stand mute

A world unseen, some unseeing.
 
 

Did Hieronymous Bosch paint this ?

He surely saw it - a living charnel house writ large

Minds dislocated in the name of some perverted peace

Such a canvas leaves one dumb.
 
 

What God has given man has taken

A blasphemy of slash and burn

Pax Africana upon the altar

Seemingly little resurrectional hope for thee.
 
 

Did Edvard Munch paint here ?

He must have dreamt it-this fiendish site

Manmade, contorted out of shape and hate

These open wounds framed in guilt.

[One day I walked in to a vast camp filled with 3,500 amputees, some as young as two. The horrifying scene that confronted me brought to mind certain works by the artists mentioned in this poem.]

Mark T Jones

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Initialdom 

Where once people sang now initials stalk

Acronyms and their attendants decide our fate

Good, bad, near unfathomable

These our servants now roam free, breeding unchecked.
 
 

RUF, SLA, AK47, no music in such sounds

Do you put your faith in ECOMOG or UNAMSIL ?

Is the NCRRR or the UNHCR the real route to salvation ?

Far better that you stop and put your faith in GOD.

Mark T Jones
 
 

Independence Day - 27th April 1961

Your hast conception not an act of love but of duty

Preparations hurried, rushed and often unseemly

By the book, yet its ink still moist.
 
 

The swelling in your womb enlarged by hope

Expectation and wonder filled the air

A birth urged on, induced by the winds of change.
 
 

The delivery a public event, bunting and photographs

A ceremonial sword to sver the umbilical cord

All smiles, smart salutes, silver and gold braid.
 
 

A new world ready to suckle you on high ideals

Yet harsh realities and global indifference await

Your optimism left clutching its distended stomach.
 
 

That heralded arrival soon eclipsed and forgotten

Dissemblers wait to sell your soul and that of future generations

Liberty's bell now hollow and the haunt of vultures.

Mark T Jones

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Protocol

"His Excellency the Minister will see you now."

I stand endeavouring to look taller

Hat firmly clasped, heat resisted.

God, how I hate these meetings.
 
 

Tawdry furnishings and even cheaper words

Our dignity must be maintained

He must be appeased, his ego massaged

A malodorous minister must be seen to glow.
 
 

His bull-necked toadies sit in ill-fitting suits

Biros recording every nuance, every hollow gesture

Whilst in the real world people strive to live

Their futures choked by the rancid fumes of protocol.

[Written in Freetown following meetings with various Sierra Leone Government Ministers.]

Mark T Jones

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Basket Case ?

Pliny the Elder was right, if only we knew it

Instead we sit smug and self-satisfied

Spiritual pigmies who have sold what soul we have for the here and now.
 
 

If only we could look as well as see

The Dark Continent seems to elicit predictable headlines

AIDS, atrocities, famine and the psychotic doings of the self-annointed.
 
 

The real truth is there for all to see

An energy and desire for learning that humbles

Innovation, opness and communal joy tempered by corruption.
 
 

Africa holds up a mirror to us all

No romance in poverty, but an infusion of faith

In what we see as earthly darkness is the route to the hereafter.

(Ex Africa semper aliquid novi - There is always something new out of Africa - Pliny the Elder 23-79AD)

Mark T Jones

29 8 04

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8 August 04, Hal Sirowitz writes:

Dear editor - I liked your website and am sending you
a poem in support.  It's loosely structured.  I'm the
former Poet Laureate of Queens, New York.  My new book
of poems is 'Father Said' (Softskull Press). 


One Long Continual War

'You're still fighting
the Vietnam War,' 
father said.  'Everyone
else has forgotten it
and moved to the next one.'

'But we haven't finished it,'
I said.  'We've only moved it
to a different location.  We're
repeating the same situation: 
a strong nation taking advantage
of a weak one.  We're like
the bully who lives on our street.'

'We only fight when we're 
provoked,' he said. 

'That's what the bully says,' I said.

'Maybe he's right,' he said.

'He can't be right all the time,' I said.

'You're always provoking me,'
he said, 'by telling me our
country is wrong.  You have
to admit it's right sometimes.'

'Only if it's not fighting other
countries and starts helping
its own people,' I said.

'And what would we do
about our enemies?' he said.
'Just leave them alone
and watch as they grow stronger.'

'They're not our enemies if
we're not fighting them,' I said.

'That attitude caused the Roman Empire
to fall,' he said.

'Where did you get that idea?' I said.

'From watching the movie 'Ben Hur'
a few times,' he said.

'I saw it and got a completely
different opinion,' I said.

'That's what makes our country great,'
he said.  'We have the freedom to disagree.'

'We've always disagreed,' I said.

'But never on anything as important
as Hollywood,' he said.

Hal Sirowitz

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Kevin John Skinner

I was in the army, now I am working in Kosovo, but no longer in a military capacity.  I was just trying to put across, in a short description, the sense of coldness and detachment, but capture all the elements that one would not perceive unless you have been in a similar situation.  I hope I manage this. 

POW 

Dedicated to any POW and the recent captured, prey that they will be free in mind body and soul.

Its grey, why do I stay,
Its fear entering my ear,
In me it's all I see, I need to get some rest.
Darkened room filled with gloom,
Locked room, I'm in a tomb, my made womb,
I see the light, I just can't fight, 
I sit alone, frozen to the bone,
Something not right on this darkened night,
I hear a whisper, giving my mind a roller coaster twister,
are they words, or Chinese whispers,
My mind begins to blister.
I try to cry, but all is dry, is it time to die, thoughts of goodbye making me fry,
I cant sleep, I hear a heart beat, I'm in to deep, to deep to sleep.
I can't eat; I have cold feet, why can't I sleep?
I'm thinking without blinking, I feel myself sinking,
From the grey to the black, I have to watch my back,
I think I taking a panic attack, give my grey back.
I need to get some sleep,
I can't get no sleep...

Kevin John Skinner

Copyright 2004 

A Soldier

Dusk or dawn, all is still, just strange noises shrill.
I lay to hear my prey, I smell of earth, I am the turf,
hearing sounds, my sweat the salt of dirt. Calm 
composed, in my strike pose.

I meditate, thought of home numbed away. A noise!
I poise a delay so to say. Unnatural crackle did nature tackle.
I smell the air to compare; I can tell they are there.
I smell the guns, the oil of its used toil, that scent makes
their foil.

I am nature, I am one, trained environment relater, about
to be the instigator, queen and countries terminator.
I hear a whisper, the sound of a popping blister, boots 
on the ground, synthetic scuffling sound. Now in my sight, on
this deadened night.

A flare, a glare, shadows grow, adrenaline flows. My finger squeezes 
slow, I attack, no fire back, slumped shadows, never to see green meadows,
grounded, body bag founded.

I am a tree, you cant see me, I am a boulder, they should
have told you, I am a soldier, from dusk to dawn.

Kevin John Skinner

2004 Kosovo

Copyright 2004 

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Colin Alcock 

16 May 03

One mother's son, another's daughter

They lie together
Entwined in lovers' parody
Twisted in silent rebuke
Of their mutual destiny
Neither sought nor deserved.
His face seeks solace in the skies
Flesh ripped and folded
Exposing blood glistened white bone
One eye sightless, staring
Fixed, unfocused.
One socket eyeless
Rimmed with gore.
Jagged bone ripped through flesh
Of arms, of chest, of hip
Lower limbs strangely clean
Athletic, down to white trainers
Spattered red and brown.
 
 

Her arm in silken sleeve
Torn from embroidered bodice
Encircles in mock tenderness
A body she'd never known.
A meeting of like souls
Thrown together by chance
She a full 20 metres
From where he stood
Now draped in tortuous pose.
One foot severed, sinuously attached
Sole upwards, toes pointing back
Face buried in a stranger's shoulder
Black hair streaming down
Glinting in sharp sunlight
Heat laden, dust grimed air
Curling wisps gently upward
Caressing her rip torn body.

So is this the peace
For which the soldiers fought
So bravely, so relentlessly?
Arched and broken cadavers
Freed from torment
And crush of dictator's power.
Strewn as rubble
Amongst a broken regime
Their innocence a shattered monument
Far more telling
Than decapitated statues
Razed  ministries
Or salute of rolling armour.
Two souls lost to this world
That harboured no evil
That, had they met in life,
May have celebrated amity.

What now of their families
Bereft of loved ones
Not yet knowing of their loss?
One mother's son
Another's daughter
Brushed into the dirt of war
The number of two
Added to thousands more
Civilian and military
Each having embraced
The agonising throes of death.
Or much, much worse
Dismembered, burned and mutilated 
To survive in little more than name.
Tagged bodies, pallet strewn
Enduring sparse, though dedicated care
Flies dancing on their festering wounds.

Does acrid black smoke
Hang still before our eyes
To cloud our vision?
Red sand swirl menacingly
Obliterating our senses
As we carve great swathes
Of needless death
In the name of freedom?
So we become the threat
That relishes war before democracy
Abandoning dialogue 
In delusion of supremacy
Pangaea ruptured in mistrust
Firing neighbour against neighbour
In perpetual self destruction
Never learning, never winning
That peace of which we dream.

Now bundled into ragged sheets
Two lives are liberated
Only from this world.
Swept away
To make their separate departures
In rough hewn caskets
Amongst the tears and lamentations
Of those who are left
To rebuild shattered, tortured lives
From the rubble and dust
That was once their pride.
No Generals to praise them
No idolatry of fame
Only the hard soil to embrace them.
This son, this daughter of our time
Memories that fade as generations pass
While war perpetuates its misery.

Colin Alcock

Copyright Colin Alcock 2003
1 May 2003

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Found 

Rusted bucket,
digs deep into hard earth,
revving engine and screeching clutch
drowning the crack of brittle bone,
 whining, straining, lifting upwards,
shards sifting from soulless steel,
blind to gnarled hands that scrabble
in the trough of desecrated humanity.

Vestiges of identity
clawed out of fading memory,
so long bereft of hope,
now once more with love enfolded,
as, black shrouded, head bowed,
war crushed remnants, tortured and slain,
plastic bag clutched to her heart,
wailing tearfully, she takes her son home.

Colin Alcock
Copyright Colin Alcock 2003
16 May 2003

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Their Problem Our Solution 

so what is this thing
this thing we call war
what do we make of it
what is it for

can we form an opinion
can we find solid ground
can we beat the same drum
and sound the same sound

does war enter our thoughts
when we're alone by ourselves
do we think - analyse
or leave it up on the shelf

waiting to fall 
to fall on our heads
as we lay safe and warm
asleep in our beds

WAKE UP
WILL YOU PLEASE
MY FRIENDS IN THIS ROOM
THIS NEEDN'T BE A TALE 
OF SADNESS AND GLOOM

BUT OF POWER
AND FREEDOM
OPINION AND RIGHT
OF INTELLIGENT INTERPRETATION
NOT  POLITICAL SHITE

we've all come together 
through a common theme
we love living life
and we love being being

so is it just me
am i going mad
but this war with iraq
don't it feel
really bad  - to you
and you
to you and you

we know what's going down
we've checked out this coup

and lets face it

whether we're 
hypocritical christians
fanatical muslims
peace loving krauts
or arrogant yids
whatever we do
we leave to our kids

and i want my son
to think his dads sound
a fool to no one
and prepared to stand ground
for not just what he believes in
but what he feels to be right

could they ever be wrong
will we always sit tight

as it falls out of sight
in a political blur
to appear later on
as a wrong bloody war

so come now my friends
and lets make a pact
for the sake of our future
lets agree that we'll act

not as courageous young martyrs
who leave but their souls
but as a movement of people
pursuing like minded goals

to be shared amongst all
not bartered or sold

lets do it ok
cos soon we'll be old

and what could be worse
when we're waiting for death
to say to ourselves
If only IF.

Damian McCarthy.
November 2004

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Broadmoor Blah

We have found no weapons - no

I've said that I accept - accept

Belief has proved unfounded -

Though still it's our assumption

(quite different from our faith)

it was Saddam's intention

to continue his transgression

The facts are clearly there

or if not there somewhere

Of this I have no doubt - no doubt

As evidence is all laid bare

The circle can be spun as square.

Michael Culver

8 October 2004

Oil was discovered in Mesopotamia in about 1904.

Question: In the last I 00 years how many times has Iraq, its government or people,

(a) bombed the U.K. or any of its dependent territories, killing thousands and leaving behind unexploded cluster bombs and depleted uranium which will poison the land for centuries?

(b) invaded the UK or any of its dependent territories, killing tens of thousands of civilians and smashing the infrastructure to pieces?

Now try swapping UK for Iraq and vice versa.

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I.P.P.* Awards 2004

Winner: Lord Button of Brownose 

Lord Button of Brownose thinks it's all jolly fine

And the bodies they pile up inside of the shrine

Because nobody lied, even right down the line

And the bodies they pile up inside of the shrine.

Intelligence shortfalls, that's wisdom in hindsight

And infants are slaughtered as they sleep in the night

All acted with valour, in good faith by god's light

And infants are slaughtered as they sleep in the night.

Lord Button of-Brownose thinks promotions are due

And Iraq is all covered with bombs and D.U.

To those of long service for whom honours are new!

And Iraq is all covered with bombs and D.U.

Lord Button of Brownose thinks rewards are too few

And Iraq is quite covered with blood and D.U.

Michael Culver

21 October 2004

* Institutionalised Paranoid Psychopaths

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OUT OF MY HANDS

I kneel here, fearing for my life,

blindfolded, my captor bearing a knife,

thinking of my family, friends and all,

only came here to rebuild their wall,

as minutes, hours, turn into days,

my life changes in many ways,

a tall proud man I once stood,

unlike this coward, beneath his hood,

brainwashed, doing what he must,

in his God, he puts his trust,

and me, all I can do is sit and wait,

for others will decide my fate,

I plead with him but he will not listen,

so I stay in my cold, dirty and darkened prison,

Is this to be my very last day,

all I can do is sit and pray.

Glyn Norton

Written when hostages were taken in Iraq.

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To Any Soldier in Iraq

(because I do not know any)

Soldier, Brave Soldier
be strong,
be courageous

Your enemy, how evil,
is lurking,
brings fear.

Soldier, Brave Soldier
my hero,
my friend

My prayers, to God
with you,
in battle

Service, to the Country
So brave,
So kind.

Just a kindergarten teacher from Texas, but I am praying for you!
Sincerely,
Heather Olsen

27 March 03

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