Poetry again: I Run Away Quickly

19Nov13

This is the Iraq poem I mentioned several months ago, titled “I Run Away Quickly”, I.R.A.Q., which was some anonymous soldier’s clever acronym. I think it applies perfectly to the convoy escort mission my unit had. It felt like running away was all we did over there. As convoy escorts, we weren’t there to look for enemy, or to sustain engagements. We were there to get our supply convoys to their destination.

The halfhearted, bitter joke was that if we were ambushed, we’d “spray, pray and run away.” Our teams were made of three humvees with nine soldiers, dragging a mile-long convoy of twenty to thirty unarmored eighteen-wheel trucks driven by unarmed, untrained men from all over the third world who could rarely even speak to each other. If ambushed, we simply couldn’t put up a good fight. We were cat herders, just trying to get the mob on wheels to the next FOB.

Me and one of my teammates after our final convoy in Iraq.

Me and one of my teammates after our final convoy in Iraq.

And even worse, we were more likely to get hit by an IED than an ambush. My team took a couple of close IED calls, and was never in a real ambush. This wasn’t good. At least in an ambush you can shoot back. When your only threat is a roadside bomb, you sit in your humvee for hours tensed and expectant, waiting for a hit that might kill your entire crew. Those missions were no fun.

We never had a chance to spray, and I never prayed. But we ran away a lot.

I used to semi-seriously tell my friends about my biggest fear. An IED would hit one of our supply trucks and scatter its contents. I’d run from my humvee to check on the driver and a secondary would detonate close enough to mortally wound me. Then, as I was laying there dying, I’d look around and see what I had given my life to protect: Xbox games and gangsta rap CDs being delivered to a PX.

A 101st humvee after an IED strike, fall 2005.

A 101st humvee after an IED strike, fall 2005.

This poem was about those missions. Let me know what you think. Thanks guys.

EDITED TO ADD: I just talked to my dad and found out he and my mom had an argument about this poem earlier. My mother got the idea that this was written by an anonymous soldier and I’m just reposting it, while my dad insisted I wrote it. My dad was right, I wrote it. The anonymous soldier I referred to only wrote

I
R un
A way
Q uickly

on a bathroom wall. I wrote the poem in 2006, about a year after I came home from Iraq.

—————————————————-

I Run Away Quickly

I can stand on this safe spot
In the embrace of my wife
Listening to my children’s laughter
Laying on a soft bed
In a comfortable home

Then turn and face my yesterday
And remember the world where I once lived
A place where talismans, mumbled prayers
And sacred pictures
Never really kept anyone alive

A world of monotonous, silent blackness
Broken by lethal red streaks and sudden flashes
Racing engines and racing pulses
Subdued lights and night vision
Static-blurred screams through electronic filters
Gaping craters the only memorial
To men who disappeared in flames and smoke

I remember the weight on my shoulders
And the weight on my mind
Of armor and weapons
Ammunition belts, frags and star clusters
Lives in my hands
Taking cover behind shredded steel
While a million eyes targeted me
From empty windows and looming rooftops

I still see what was left
In flames and in pieces
What had not long before been whole
What we thought powerful and solid
Scattered to shreds across the concrete
A glowing hulk surrounded on all sides
By random parts of a True Believer
A blank spot on a highway, an anonymous checkpoint
Where a brave man named Lutters died

I don’t miss the fear
The sirens and warnings
Walls rattling from explosions
The anger and frustration
Of never knowing where death was hiding
Of being a rolling, glowing target
That couldn’t even fight back

I don’t miss accepting the facts
If I do the wrong thing, my men and I might die
If I do nothing, my men and I might die
If I do the right thing, my men and I might die anyway
And just because we survived this mission
Doesn’t mean the next one won’t be our last

And yet there is a longing
To step back into that world
And feel the threats and dangers
To be totally alive, seconds and inches from death
As the kill zone passes outside my window
To live in the land where why doesn’t matter
And the only questions are how
And for how long

I cannot explain this
To myself or anyone else
Not to my children, not to my wife
In whose arms I find a peace
That could never possibly exist
In the land of unthinking hatred and mangled dead
Where I used to be

So I turn around once more
Stand solidly in the world where I belong
Breathe air without smoke and sand
Live as if I’m going to live
Not as if I’m about to die
Allow myself the freedom of happiness and security
That I hope I finally earned,
In that other world, not so long ago

I glance back at that year
And see it finally receding
The convoys going the other direction
The tracers angling away from me
Angry orange flashes dulling to grey
Painful noise muted by time and distance
Tensed muscles uncoiled, overloaded mind eased
My finger no longer on a trigger
My life no longer a number

Here I stay
Life not filled with terror
Until the time comes
To spin up, and return to the kill zone
While I count the days
Until I’m home again.

Available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.com and Tactical16.com. Available electronically from iTunes/iBooks and Barnesandnoble.com.

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16 Responses to “Poetry again: I Run Away Quickly”

  1. 1 Nathalie Leclercq

    Strong stuff! I used to analyze poems at university, but when you really enjoy reading a poem, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly you like about it. I like the fact that you don’t bother with old-fashioned techniques like metaphors or comparisons (I vividly remember learning at school about the ‘tertium comparationis’ – so glad you didn’t use that). The strongest lines in the poem are the ones where you describe ambiguous stuff like the remains of a fanatic who blew himself up. Of course it’s horrible, but he believed in what he was doing. It also seems to me that all the strongest lines have a certain rhythm, for instance “My finger no longer on a trigger
    My life no longer a number”. Hope this doesn’t sound too academic – I’m just trying to say I like your poem!

    • 2 Street Soldier (aka COP)

      That’s a fair review Nathalie, I too enjoyed the meter of some of the lines, had me dancing in my seat a little. My unsolicited remark is as to whether or not a fanatic truly believes in what they are doing. I think most people, fanatic or not, act first and consider the consequences secondarily, if alive to do so. Some suicide bombers are actually coerced or forced into doing their cowardly deed. A “sapper” bomber, as seen in the recent movie, Olympus Has Fallen, strikes at a strategic position that supports the mission objective, even a Kamikaze pilot aimed towards a Military combatant. Attacking civilians or non-combat supply lines is not something a rationale fanatic should do. I should know, since I’m crazy.

      • Soldier,

        Actually, he carried out a VBIED attack on a route patrol. My understanding is that the attack was very deliberate, the attacker was an older guy who appeared very calm and conducted the attack in a very rational way. My gut reaction is “true believer” rather than “irrational fanatic”.

        • 4 Street Soldier (aka COP)

          then in this situation I would say Nathalie is right and how do you defend against that? sure does not seem like a selling point for their cause, Jesus makes more sense to me.

    • Nathalie,

      Trust me when I tell you I have ZERO training in writing poetry. I just wrote what felt right, and it’s probably technically all screwed up. I guarantee you I will never use any technique that even sounds like ‘tertium comparationis’. 🙂

      Thanks for the compliment!

  2. 6 Street Soldier (aka COP)

    Thanks for that poem, it expressed something that I have felt, but not explained or understood. Thank You for your Service, please don’t ever minimize the importance of your contribution regardless of the objectives of your assignments or MOS. Mission Accomplished

    • Soldier,

      Thanks, and I’m really not belittling the importance of the mission. It was an important mission, but it just sucked. One of my infantry friends who got stuck in my battalion said, “Running convoys isn’t a mission. It’s a detail.” But it was a real mission, and it kept our guys going. And in a way, we were lucky to get that mission. Others in my brigade got stuck with gate guard or retransmission site security for the entire year.

  3. 8 SPEMack

    I’m not big on poetry. I have a few lines of Kipling scrawled on the inside cover of my RainRiter and a couple of bits and pieces of Tennyson stuck in locker at work, but I’m not the type that can sit around and debate what makes poetry great. That being said, I enjoyed reading this Chris. It reminds me of “Death of a Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell.http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-death-of-the-ball-turret-gunner-2

    And it’s funny in a way, that both poems concern American fighting men in vunerable positions, with Browning heavy machine guns as protection.

    There is certainly something to the old adage that everything changes and everything stays the same.

    • Mack,

      Sorry for the long delay in responding. I’ve read the Ball Turret Gunner, and was kind of turned off by it. Then again, I’m from the all-volunteer generation, so the “I was born into the state” reference doesn’t sit well with me. But it is a powerful poem.

      The only times I ever fired a weapon at someone, I was firing a .50. Hell of a weapon, and that act alone connects me to soldiers all the way back before WW2.

  4. 10 Les

    Enjoyed the poem. It is sort of reading that makes you think about it for a long while. As for being on the convoy duty to transport supplies, my Dad at age 17 was on the LCT 159 transporting aviation fuel, ammunition and bombs from New Caledonia to Tulagi and then to Guadalcanal. He said sometimes, though, it was just a very large load of peanut butter and such. Japanese bombers would drop bombs at night well in front of them because their wake mimicked a much larger ship. He mentioned on subsequent invasions seeing other amphibious ships just disappear in a flash of light and noise. I imagine it was very boring duty until it wasn’t. But very essential.

    • Les,

      My grandfather trained as a landing craft driver, but wound up as a machine gunner on blimps and PBYs escorting convoys from Florida to New Jersey. He was never in combat, but I bet there were tense moments.

      Our convoys were boring as hell. Until something exploded and freaked us the f**k out.

  5. Chris, I followed a link to your blog from a friend’s Facebook page, and I have to say I like what I see here. You write well, and that is truly a breath of fresh air in this age of 160-character conversations consisting mostly of pop culture acronyms! You’re very articulate and you express yourself well, whether in your poetry or in your other work. Things like this might help people who have never had their finger on a trigger to gain a little better understanding of what goes on inside of those of us who have. That’s a hard barrier to cross! I will be digging into your work a little further.

  6. 14 cleptoUSMC

    Damn wind in my eyes. Dude….Brother…….. Damn.
    I had to do convoy escort for a short while on my second deployment. Didn’t have to do it on my other three. Thank God for that. Sitting in a tin can, puckered and waiting for the inevitable, straight sucks. Great poem.

    • Clepto,

      Sorry for the delayed response. Yeah, convoys sucked. I remember tensing up every time we passed a parked car, or pile of trash. A few times we had IEDs detonate near us, the closest being about 25 meters from my Humvee while we were sitting still one night. The sense of helplessness just SUCKED. One of my friends who served with me in Iraq went to Afghanistan as an embedded trainer afterward, and he told me, “Afghanistan was therapy for Iraq.” That was a hell of a way to put it, and I absolutely agree.

      Thanks for your service, Semper Fi and welcome home.


  1. 1 soldat de métier

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