Hospital Tent

U.S. Navy Nurse, the Philippines, 1942

I looked around the scene, and saw the men,
some dead, some twisting on the tables, smell
of antiseptic, smell of blood, and then
I looked outside where more waited. I tell
you I knew nothing of the Philippines,
of mangoes, houses on stilts, nipa huts, 
the smell of copra in the air, gangrene
and amputations, lice, the surgeon’s cuts
I had to sew back up, of carabao,
the glisten of the small steel instruments
catching the glint of lantern light, red pile
of gauze. But still I never cried
until one day when (I did not see how)
my hand was grabbed as I passed by, intent,
by a young man who gave me half a smile
and held me with his hands and eyes—then died.


From Tongue of War: WWII Poems (BKMK Press, 2009) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2009 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.