The Boy at the Gate: Jin Park

When I think in dreaming wake
Dreary cries of what once took place
The calls of young and old in fight
What could not lie in peace or light
Shattered dreams of love not war
The battles fought to fight no more
And yet the fighting still persists
In hopes of love that we had missed

Waiting at the rusty gate
Arms point forward from dawn ’til late
Distant shouts and screams were heard
Of children with grenades who burned
Their faces melted from the flash
So burned their nerves were turned to ash
He could not feel the scars he had
The shrapnel that pierced iron clad
Had torn his face and skin to mud
Then, crying over darkened blood

Two battles fought, one battle won
The battle from within begun
Upon return from desert hills
A sound or two brought distant stills
Of what was once, but now no more
Or has it yet to come once more?

The children fought, but none came home
To hither go and die alone
What Christ has brought, no one can take
But distant calls still cry awake
Of torment not of mine alone
But overseas, still, dying sons

Once a killer, now no more
My armor rests at home in store
And yet I fight this sightless fight
Of demons which are out of sight
Out of mind and out to kill
The children, calling out in shrill

Lord, what will you do for them?
I see the raising of the hands
The bandits trampling on the sands
And yet the fighting still goes on
There’s peace no more until the dawn
Of cataclysmic bombs and guns
That fire on innocent and strong
Both ways I see, both ways I taunt
The memories of past that haunt

So now the child with melted face
Whose dirty bomb that lie in waste
Was once picked up and flashed in face
And crying once like burning mace
I wonder where the lad is now
A soldier wonders how to trace
The boy back to his own home town
A memory that lies in chase


This was a poem inspired by a boy I saw escorted into our perimeter at a Republican Guard base we’d taken over in Iraq. He had picked up an unexploded grenade that had been lying on the street, which detonated in his face, melting his skin and hands. His skin looked like melted wax. Oddly, the boy was not crying at all. Because of his face being so badly disfigured, I could not tell what his expression was. It was not until he saw himself in a mirror that he began to cry. The battalion surgeon told me later on when I’d asked about the boy, that he wasn’t crying because he had been so badly burned, that the nerves were badly damaged, not allowing him to feel the pain. What haunts me to this day, is the fact that he cried only when seeing himself in the mirror. Sometimes I wonder if mental and emotional anguish is worse than the physical. I guess, at that point, there was only mental anguish for the boy.


Author Jin Park is a Marine Corps veteran, having served with 2/23 during the invasion of Iraq. 9/11 fell just months after he completed recruit training. He currently writes and is a prolific artist, among other talents, and resides in Southern California. You can find his work here.

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