The Ugliness of War
Rob Greene

For Babula Maria of Zamosha, Belarus (1929-2020),
my first Krav Maga Instructor

The palm-strike to my larynx
came after my babula-in-law Maria told me
those who captured her when she was eleven
were just boys after all,
frightened teenagers themselves.
They fed her, never harmed her, hid her
and let her go time and again.
Then the young Nazi platoon was ordered
to torch her village.

The right cross to my temple
came as I realized
the Nazis helped her survive that year.
What did that make her?
And what did that make me by listening?

She lived in the woods of Belarus
as a girl during World War II.
I lived on the Biloxi streets
during the War on Drugs, so I know
what hunger feels like—chewing
callus and palm, gnawed cheek
and chewed tongue—
so I could empathize with her, not them,
no way, no how, no way in hell, period.

I was trying to be a hard target,
but Babula explained—
when winter came
and the people of Russia resisted,
most of the young Nazis died
curled up like babies trying to stay warm.

This surprised me like an elbow strike.
Every Nazi is an enemy,
but wasn’t I once
a terrified boy soldier, volunteering
because I knew how to fight
for my life.

That is the ugliness of war, babula Maria told me,
lowering my guard,
ending the fight.
Rob Greene is the founder and the publisher of Raleigh Review. He teaches at Saint Augustine’s University. Greene’s recent poems can be found in Poem-a-Day through The Academy of American Poets, and in Twelve Mile Review.

View David Joel Kitcher’s selected works.

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