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?
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!