Coaching Winter Track in Time of War

by W. D. Ehrhart

The boys are running "suicides"
on the football field today:
ten-yard increments out to the fifty
and back again, push-ups in between.
It's thirty degrees, but they sweat
like it's summer in Baghdad,
curse like soldiers, swear to God
they'll see you burn in Hell.

You could fall in love with boys
like these: so earnest, so eager, so
ready to do whatever you ask, so
full of themselves and the world.

How do you tell them it's not that simple?
How do you tell them: question it all.
Question everything.  Even a coach.
Even a president.  How do you tell them:
ask the young dead soldiers coming home
each night in aluminum boxes
none of us is allowed to see,
an army of shades.

You tell the boys "good work" and call it a day,
stand alone in fading light while
memory's phantoms circle the track
like weary athletes running a race
without a finish line.

Editor's note: This poem was initially published under our original name, The Deadly Writer's Patrol, in issue #4 (2007). Reproduced here with consent of W. D. Ehrhart, a singular voice in American war poetry.