War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

men's dinner (from May Day)

o M,

sick again. don’t know what’s wrong. headaches. sore throat. not the flu. not a cold. stayed in all week. no friends, off my food. no flamenco. you know how sick I have to be to not rehearse, not to dance.

it’s Christmas and I can’t give a damn. J’s off to chica’s, then his parents on the prairies. says he hopes he’ll get the all clear from his docs, his shrinks, in the New Year. that he’ll get sent back to Battalion. good as new. won’t tell his mom though. at least not until it’s time to go.

New Year’s Eve I have to dance. private party. men’s dinner. lots of cash. good gig. still, I’d rather be on the ferry to Vancouver spending the night with my mom.

I remember last year. me in your town for a few days. you stopping at my hotel between hockey games, drinks, the Men’s Dinner back at base. Christmas turkey. chocolate Christmas cake. A B C D Coy, Admin Coy, seated at tables a hundred feet long. the men in dress uniform. two beer ration. the Officers and you NCOs serving them. red and maroon sashes, gold bars and stripes, the crown, the maple leaf. arm loads of plates. cases of Keiths and Pilsner and Canadian. Coke, Pepsi, Fanta for the ones who know themselves.

“baby, old. really old. our traditions,” you tell me when you roll in at 3 a.m., your key in the door stirring me, your breath heavy with smoke and spiced rum. “at the head table, the CO, the RSM, his right hand man, the oldest living member of the Battalion, the oldest serving, the youngest, barely 18, the Padre. and the place set, chair tilted forward, left empty, to mark the missing soldier. twenty-nine of our guys. a heavy load, baby, a heavy load.” then you describe how their photos, their hero shots—death shots some of the guys call them—are hung on the wall next to the staircase leading to the second floor in the lines. “stairway to heaven,” I say. hang up your coat, unlace your boots.

“Christmas tradition, the youngest soldier takes off his jacket, exchanges it with the CO. gets to be king for an hour or so. and youngster, fresh-faced as soldiers have always been, tells CO he’ll only pardon soldiers who didn’t mean to fail,” you lie back on the bed. I unbutton your shirt, you close your eyes. “some Solomon inside the seams of the CO’s coat,” I say, wishing I could borrow it.

“and youngster tells the men they can come in at 9 a.m. not 8 tomorrow morning. loud cheers and shouts. then Padre gets up, blesses, then the CO awards and promotes. finally the CO tells all to ‘go home and be, really be, with family and friends this year. next year Afghanistan men. desert and fight and heat and sand.’ come here baby, give me a kiss,” you purse your lips like the Victrola I saw in the museum earlier. trying to fill my time. waiting around for you to show up.

and I push you away. unimpressed. I come to your town and you roll in like I’m some sort of booty call. a few hours here. a few hours there. like you’re honey bee and I’m the lucky flower. and when I say, “let’s go for dinner tomorrow night,” you say, “can’t baby. in this town all we’ve got are these four walls. the wife would cut my balls off, torch and fling ‘em into my house if she ever found out.” and I wonder why I bother at all. to come. why I bother with any of this. and I say to you, “I don’t get it. you. warrior. so scared of her. you don’t even live with her now you’re separated. what’s she got over you anyway? guilt? or is there someone else?” and I’m mad. then suddenly, I turn to you fast, “or are you back with her again?”

“settle down. this is all that’s on offer. you knew that from the start. now I’ve got a headache. I’m going home.”

and you try and sit up but you’re too drunk from rounds at the Officers’ Mess. their turn to host the NCOs this year. and you’re too tired. a year of training new troops. breaking in new-minted officers fresh out of military college. and months in the field on Ex. and you’re still exhausted from the last tour you did in ’06. the deadly one. Kandahar. the one tatoo’ed on your arm. your heart. and Bosnia and Somalia and Cypress still circle like hawks above your sleeping head sometimes. then the next tour coming in just a few months. and the separation from wife and kids. I look at you and you’re sound asleep in a second. half-dressed. so I cover you. cut you some slack. crawl into the other side of the bed. a wall of blankets (“the colour of mud villages in Afghanistan” you said when you first saw them) and clean sheets between us.

three hours later, “gotta go. gotta pick up car pool buddy at 7. shit, where’s my tie?” no coffee. no breakfast. a quick kiss goodbye. “what time will you be here tonight?” I ask. “after dark.” you reply. and when you shut the door I notice you left your key on my desk. and I know I won’t see you again. at least for a long time. if ever.

now it’s a year later. we kissed and made up last spring. sort of. and I’m still here. writing you. thinking. daydreaming. wishing. feeling like crap. and I can only guess if I’ll eat dinner alone tonight, next week, next year when you get home. or for the rest of my life. all I know is I’ll wait to find out.


1 Comment (Closed)


Hey S, sounds like a lot of water has flowed under your bridge since you quit Auld Reekie! Sorry to hear of your indisposition (very poetic word!) and hope things perk up soon on all fronts. As always, you do a great job of bearing your soul in words that match the mood. That’s what seperates poets from the rest of humanity; they can switch onto whichever sensory wavelength the occasion demands. I recommend a nice hot Laphroaig toddy and a return to the ‘stoic Highlander’ tradition- “Bugger today – here’s to the morrow”! It will work wonders.

Dec 16 2008 · 14:52

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled men's dinner (from May Day). It was posted here on December 14, 2008.


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