Smile–Jesus Loves You dVerse Meeting the Bar


He wore no smile. Square jaw, set firm,
taut muscles. Skin like latte, stubble-covered,
(more like fuzz.)
Skin too soft for who he was,
who he pretended to be.
Salvadoran sun backlit the scene
set on the borders of insanity.


Not a game he played that day,
a game his peers in other lands
and other times still play.
This was a game of war.

He stared at us, each one, with eyes
too full of sadness for an almost-child.
Compared our passport photos with reality.

And there, upon the submachine gun’s butt—
a smiley face, a message, too.

I wonder–can he smile today,
and can he still believe?

Earthquake--El Salvador1986

Earthquake–El Salvador

At the height of the civil war in El Salvador, the country suffered a massive earthquake that resulted in much loss of life and many injuries. I spent close to a month there, helping to nurse the wounded not requiring hospitalization. We flew into Guatemala and drove to San Salvador, the capital. On the way, we had to pass through numerous military checkpoints. At one of these stops I observed a young soldier. I’d guess he wasn’t much older than 15 or 16. There on the butt of his huge machine gun was a smiley face sticker with the words in English that I’ve chosen for the title of this poem.

Submitted to dVerse Poets’ Meeting the Bar that I’m hosting this week. The doors open Thursday at 3:00 PM EDT. Hope to see you there. The theme, believe it, or not, is IRONY!


35 thoughts on “Smile–Jesus Loves You dVerse Meeting the Bar

  1. zongrik says:

    the children always suffer the most

    First Rose


  2. Rowan Taw says:

    My instant reaction was sadness, but I hope that was one of his ways/symbols of holding on to some childhood joy. Moving.


  3. Tino says:

    This reminds me of a scene in Full Metal Jacket, a Vietnam war film. A soldier, aptly named Joker, wears a peace sign badge on his uniform and his commanding officer takes exception to it. Written on his helmet is Born To Kill.


  4. Victoria, it’s a type of slavery, child soldiers… I admire your work so much and wish I had the mobility (and expertise) (and state of mind) to do such work. You are of hearty stock and a good soul.

    This little boy, what a tragedy. All our male poets and partners excepted, I think that, until the world gets more peace-minded, helpful women into positions of power, we’re in deep… mud. Thank you for sharing this story. The sticker will never mean the same thing to me again, although I detest simplistic slogans… Amy


  5. Teresa says:

    This is just heart-wrenching.


  6. vbholmes says:

    Unfortunately, children have been involved in war since the beginning of time. My only known Civil War ancestor was a ten-year-old drummer boy–he survived. Thanks for the prompt. Your choice was a good one which has resulted in some interesting stories.


  7. Amazing work, gut-wrenching


  8. David King says:

    Heart-rending and SO compelling…


  9. kkkkaty1 says:

    These kinds of stories break my heart. I know the young people all over the world want vital lives and all that goes with sad they are brought into the adult battles correctly or incorrectly chosen to fight…they are babies..


  10. Sabio Lantz says:

    Thanks for the prompt, Victoria
    Cool poem in memory of that amazing trip of yours.
    A front seat in the theatre of life.
    For me, it was Afghanistan when they were fighting the Russians — youth ready to die one minute, playing the next. I guess adults do the same but they drop the silly stickers.


  11. Imelda says:

    Your poem expresses irony on many levels – a young child warrior, the imagery of the gun and the smiley face, among others.


  12. dragyonfly says:

    Victoria…i must be the devil’s advocate here and say that to me, the real irony is that most all wars are fought over religion….so the sticker fits. Regardless, amazing prose. Thanks for sharing.


  13. Wow…this leaves me speechless…such a powerful image… irony indeed! Amazing poem!


  14. […] is a list of spaceship names penned by Scottish sci-fi writer Ian M. Banks. The title also befits Victoria‘s thorough prompt about irony […]


  15. hedgewitch says:

    Well, I don;t suppose you could find a more classic example of irony, Victoria. You really bring the whole sad scene to life.


  16. Very powerful message – the ending here really struck me with one of those “read it again” moments. Really well done.


  17. Glenn Buttkus says:

    A poet should travel, should visit war zones, should be emotionally wrenched, then later the experience will emerge in verse. Brian Turner, of HERE, BULLET always said, “If you truly want to understand war–send in the poets”. I enjoyed your piece very much, Victoria.


  18. A good example of irony..these stories of innocence corrupted make one almost despair . War will always be with us it seems.


  19. Wow. I mean… wow. What an image. Stunning write.


  20. Shawna says:

    These are very striking, beautiful, tender phrases to me: “Skin like latte” and “Skin too soft for who he was.”


  21. You poem pierces me deep with sadness. This is an important use of irony to be shared.


  22. Tony Maude says:

    This is still happening in too many countries. Children, especially young girls, are having their childhoods destroyed – and very few people seem to want to do anything about it.

    Great use of irony, Victoria, to make a point that just has to keep being made until it is heard and acted upon.


  23. Grace says:

    I feel sad when children are used at war, they lose their innocense and we rob them of that special time ~ Perhaps deep down, he does believe~


  24. wolfsrosebud says:

    so sad… i’ll never look at another smiley face in the same way


  25. Truly sad, and Real irony – I like this a lot


  26. A heartbreaking scene – such powerful writing to show us the irony in every conflict and war. K


  27. aprille says:

    There often seems a fine line between irony and humour, but this instance of irony is definitely not funny. Sad, scary aspect of what is already a terrible thing. And the most terrifying is the fact that these young kids might see it as a game.
    Sobering post, Victoria.


  28. Laurie Kolp says:

    Oh, this gives me chills. A perfect example of irony here, Victoria… and so sad.


  29. viv blake says:

    Victoria, I am full of admiration for your life, your work, your poetry and your sense of humour. Tears came as I read your process notes.


  30. claudia says:

    oh heck…that breaks my heart.. it’s so terrible when they why still so young have to face such horror like in a war and then the earthquake as well.. how many must have lost their parents, kids, husbands… very cool that you went there and helped victoria


  31. brian miller says:

    first, children with machine guns make me shiver a bit…machine guns with smiley faces make me shiver all the more…ugh…makes me think of the boy soldiers in africa as well…brutal…

    a rather interesting thing…i became obsessed with the salvadoran civil war in high school…it was the strangest thing…i saw an article one day and then started searching for more…i dont even know why to this day but i have a box full of them in my parents basement…


  32. Jamie Dedes says:

    Poignant. I’ve read that in Lebanon their are references to Our Lady on their rifles. A sad, sad thing in more ways than one.

    Well done as always.

    Many blessings,


  33. WoW, Sure was ironic that a young man is able have sticker of smiley face in spite of the turnmoil around him. Powerful poem.


  34. Mary says:

    Victoria, it is so sad which ‘children’ are called upon to carry guns rather than play the games that children usually do. The game of war is never kind, and (yes) one wonders if he CAN smile today and whether he does believe.


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