War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Clean (from May day)

Another installment of May Day, a fictional series of letters from a young woman to her lover serving as a Warrant Officer in Afghanistan. For a backgrounder on the project, click on the May Day icon at the right, or listen to the audio broadcast, writing May Day.

“At war, a Russian man puts on a white shirt. He may live in sin, but he dies like a saint.”
Vasily Grossman, a Writer at War


J leaves books all over the place. I pick them up. gobble them. like a little bird in a fairytale. seeds of war. one at a time. Sun Tzu, Arthur Graeme West, Diary of a Dead Officer, Dave Grossman’s On Killing, On Combat (maybe I shouldn’t have read that.) poets too. Owen, Frost, Tennyson, Iraq vet, Brian Turner. Here Bullet. Outside the Wire.

the other night. after I whined about you. how you never write. how you take me for granted. how you love the fight. then I laid into soldiers in general, J got mad. “don’t think we’re all like M, all laugh and fuck and rules and fight. there are scholars and poets and musicians and painters in FOBs and LAVs, on convoy, out in the wilderness… what do you see in him anyway?”

and M, sometimes I think J’s a wounded priest. and I think he just needs to wash it out of him. get his brain clean. so I sit back. don’t engage. just let him yack and fuss. all the while, in my head, I go through my own choreography. pretend to listen. nod, in agreement, say “is that the way it is. I didn’t know”, to him. keep him talking. while I set footwork to memory.

one day after a rant I told him about los Gitanos road trips. I told J about how when we’re touring and we’ve got late nights, early starts. and we’re all crammed into our van with costumes and gear, that it’s hard to stay clean. and there’s nothing worse than being jammed in together for 5 hours between gigs with a bunch of stinking dancers. because we haven’t time to clean up. bad for morale. bad for the next show.

and J told me how the brothers go without showers for weeks out in the wilderness. their uniforms stiff with salt of sweat. and they reek. but eventually the sense of smell goes into overdrive. quits. and they can’t smell filthy socks, ball sweat, latrines, nothing except the baby wipes they use to clean the worst. “you don’t realize how dirty you are until someone arrives fresh and clean from KAF. suddenly your sense of smell comes back, and the new guy smells sickly sweet,” he says, “then you realize how dirty you are.”

“still, outside the wire, there’s one rule when the brass come around. ineluctable—shave. sometimes with ½ cup cold water and disposable blade. skin grates like cheese.”

beardless. the fine line. some sort of civility? discipline? standards? I ask.
“lots of reasons. one of them, a gas mask won’t fit tight.” he replies.

when J sleeps on my couch, he’s always up and out by 6. works out. stays strong. comes back from the gym. shower, shave. his skin soft.

once I suggested he skip the shave, let it grow. maybe a gucci mustache like on Ex, or a soul patch. might help him detach. from you, the infantry. the life. war.

and one day he actually let it go until noon. but as we sat around that lazy Sunday, reading papers, drinking coffee, listening to flamenco (“those singers sound like they’ve got toothaches S” he said), he kept scratching his face like a nervous dog. “that’s it. I can’t take it,” jumped up, ran a bath. soaked for an hour. came out smelling like my good lavender soap.

and it’s too bad M. no matter how long it’s been. how far away. it all is. J can’t break step. the more he washes. the sand, the stink, the dirty hands. the sweat of Afghanistan. just seems to stick to him. the more he wants to go back.


About This Page

The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Clean (from May day). It was posted here on June 04, 2010.


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