More on Canada’s War Poet….
…. Her most devoted audience includes the soldiers themselves, including those of the other NATO nations who served in Afghanistan and who contacted her through her website.
That is an unusual audience for poetry. The members of the hypermale culture of the combat arms are not known for reading books of sonnets by female poets.
The response from the soldiers themselves has been amazing,” said Steele, who went in like a journalist, with no military censorship or approval of what she wrote and who grappled with the same issues of trust, confidentiality and responsibility to both her readers and her subjects.
She has received hundreds of telephone calls and e-mails from families of soldiers and their next-of-kin and her work has been read at soldiers’ funerals and ramp ceremonies.
The material inevitably touched upon violent death of soldiers she knew, the way war ages young men, the effect on families left behind — and the reunifications that are far more difficult than the ecstatic televised hugs at the airport will lead you to believe.
“The only negative comment I have had was from someone with whom I have since become friends, and he wrote me a very scathing message asking how dare I write about what it’s like to lose a buddy because I had no idea what that was like,” she recalled.
“I wrote him back and said you’re right, of course I have no idea. I’m a nobody over there, I’m neither friend nor enemy, I’m just trying to put into words what I saw. I don’t know what it feels like and I don’t pretend that I do.” ….
this morning a big surprise. a letter from desert diver. expert in underwater. fish and tides. expert in electronics, wires. things that go big boom. when you least expect.
I met him at WWx. out in a FOB. wandering back to my biv. he was pacing days pressing weights. a naval diver training for a desert on a prairie. this guy built to last…muscles, abs… the art on his body brilliant as the new spring budding out all around us. pure beauty in motion. and a heart to match. he was counting down days til leave. til overseas.
“you need to write about desert divers” he said. and I promised I will (and I will).
we chatted, promised to stay in touch. said goodbye. and never saw each other again until A’stan and I flew outside the wire. down to X. somewhere at the pointy end.
and at the pointy end I met so many I’d grown used to over the past year. it was like a weird class reunion in a hesco’ed resort (no toilets, no swimming pools, no comfy beds, roofs just replaced after mortar attacks) catered by the CF (rations and one hot meal per day). everywhere I looked I saw someone I knew… Lt. X, Cpl. Y., even Capt. J-A (the rooster I’d spent 48 hrs with in Wainwrightistan… he used to stick his head out the door and yell “terp” like a cock crowing for his girls) and the Angel of the FOBs…all of them getting ready for a big Op. and there was the desert diver. tuning up his gear. we hugged.
the night before I flew out I lost my nerve. circumstances in my life made me want to bail (a Padre friends told me he’d have DAGged me red). but a knock on my door from a reccie who came in, sat on the end of my bed urging me not to quit, urging me to go see “the real Afghanistan, not this shithole KAF”, telling me I’d regret it all my life if I didn’t. a reccie who’d just taken a very long stroll. changed my mind. next morning I hopped into a chopper. took the best flight of my life. landed at the pointy end. found so many I know.
my time out at X was too short. but not fast enough in some ways (the tick tick of the mortality clock loud in my head). anyway, desert diver and I chatted and laughed and cried. let me get his t-shirt wet with tears. then he told me about his first time with an IED. like a nervous bride. he was old-school with it. bayonet in sand. and he was stoked really stoked. and he told me how much he loved his wife. his kids. asked me to phone them when I got home (I did) and tell them how much he loved them. we hugged, kissed goodbye.
now this morning news from him. busy. and that’s good because every time he does his job he saves lives. lots of lives. Afghans’ and ours. (imagine coming home from the office every day and being asked how was your day and being able to respond, “oh the usual. I prevented 30 people from being killed or maimed”… intense stuff). and I’m so grateful for him being there for me. desert diver.
a long, long way from the sea. being kind. helping me. holding me. in the middle of a war.