War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

full circle

2 years ago I was chosen as a war artist. the first poet in the history of the country’s war artist program (civilian). I wanted to know the colour of the dust. I needed to know it. I could not write my Elegy for an Infantryman without having it right. someone said, “apply” I did. was chosen. a nobody, chosen. no idea why it should be me.

I met L.Col. Walsh in passing way back then. told him what I hoped to do. he was the new commanding officer of 1PPCLI and he loves poetry. he understood. invited me, “come with us all the way. watch the road to war. show up at our front door and we’ll take you in.” he was a man of his word. he honoured that promise.

with 1PPCLI I went to Shilo, Suffield, Wainwright, Afghanistan. I watched them prepare. I watched them on the front. now I’ve watched them come home. the Task Force losing a dozen men. I knew some of those men whose pictures were at the front of the great hangar yesterday. I shared cigars and coffee with some of them. homemade chocolate chip cookies. Hershey kisses (I always kept in my frag vest pocket). I shared cold rations, LAVs, BATs, leaguers. I’ve hugged two of their grieving mothers, shook hands with their fathers, their brothers, uncles… witnessed their tears.

but I’ve laughed with those men as well. often. in fact the hardest part of leaving them is always missing the humour. theirs is a tough job. an ugly job sometimes. but inevitably they laugh. almost always they laugh.

and today I watched L. Col. Walsh leave command of 1PPCLI in a complex ceremony of swords and flags and music and marching men. a new man, a man I met on the tarmac at young Mickey’s repatriation ceremony last month, has taken over. I ran into L.Col. Walsh on his way to the farewell reception and grabbed him to get his photo with me. in 18 months the guy’s never stopped long enough for me to grab him for a pic. we stood inside the PPCLI lines, his wife snapped a shot. then we shook hands and he was gone. boarding a plane soon. no room for 2 commanders ever.

and I give thanks to L.Col. Walsh. for understanding what an artist needs to see, what an artist needs to do. and his men and women too. for letting me in. it’s been an amazing time. now I hope I’ll be able to do you all justice.

oh ya, one other thing. a special thanks to Cpl. X. he was there to be my fixer, my driver, my “int” from the first day I arrived at Shilo. in the interim he disappeared to remuster and I thought I’d never see him again. suddenly from out nowhere I received an email from him and giving me his new coords. I called him, we caught up, then when I needed it, he showed up, drove me, got me info etc. etc. almost as if that year of non-contact had never happened.

thanks Cpl. you made my last days with the infantry, one of them the most difficult – the memorial – so much better.


1 Comment (Closed)

Alex VanderWoude

I expect this chapter of your life will stay with you until death. In a way it’s a pity that it has to end.

Me, I’m grateful that you chose to share this part of your life online so that civilians like me can get an inkling. Thanks very, very much.

Jun 24 2010 · 14:03

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled full circle. It was posted here on June 22, 2010.

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