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Poem: "Soldier Boy" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Soldier Boy"

This poem came out of the January 7, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from siege.  It also fills the "entertainment" square in my 10-6-13 card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  This poem has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the April 1, 2014 Poem reaching the $200 threshold.  It belongs to the series Fiorenza the Wisewoman.

Soldier Boy

The children of the village
didn't mean anything by it.

Fiorenza felt certain that
they intended only good
when they invited Mad Ercole
to join their entertainment.

Armies of toy soldiers
marched along the edges
of the herb beds outside the church.

The little figures of wood
had been whittled from twigs
by fathers and uncles and older brothers,
the officers' uniforms painted in bright colors,
the rank and file left plain.

The boys -- and a few girls too --
pooled their collections to form two armies
and set about a battle complete with
tales of grand heroics.

It was the baker's son Ignacio
who realized that entertainment
had somehow turned to upset.
He came running into the church where
Fiorenza was consulting with Don Candido.

The wisewoman hurried outside to find
Mad Ercole sitting in the garden path
and sobbing over the broken remains
of a soldier carved from silver birch,
its head separated from its body.

"What happened here?" Fiorenza asked.
"We just wanted to see him smile,"
Ignacio said, his lip trembling.

Fiorenza couldn't blame him.
Mad Ercole had lost most of his happiness
along with his wits in the siege of Fermo.
"I understand," Fiorenza said as she hugged Ignacio.
"I'm always looking for ways to cheer him up too."

Don Candido came out of the church behind them
and led Mad Ercole inside where he could
relieve his grief without an audience.

Fiorenza soothed the children,
helping them collect their toys
and pack everything away.
She assured all of them that
it had not been anyone's fault
that a casual game had turned so sour.

Finally Fiorenza went back inside
to see how Mad Ercole was doing.
He sat in a back pew, still crying,
but more quietly now.

"Soldier boy," he choked out
when Fiorenza sat down beside him.

"That's all I could get out of him,"
Don Candido said.  "I don't know
if he's weeping over what happened to him
or to someone else he knew."

"Perhaps both," Fiorenza said,
recalling that Mad Ercole had gotten
his injuries from a nearly-spent cannonball,
and considering what such weapons could do
to a group of tightly packed men.

Don Candido fetched a pot of glue
and coaxed the toy soldier away from Mad Ercole
so that the broken pieces could be put back together.
From then on, it found a home
on the mantelpiece of Fiorenza's cottage,
not unlike the carven lares  in the family shrine.

Afterwards, whenever Mad Ercole passed by,
the wooden soldiers were swiftly put away.
The girls brought out their dollies
dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses,
and even the boys played with those instead.

* * *


Toy soldiers go back about as far as soldiers themselves.  Historically, they were often made from wood or tin.

Whittling is a useful craft.  Birch carves easily and makes nice toys.

Lares are guardian spirits represented by small statues.

Dolls usually represent common professions or other archetypes.  Here's one of an Italian peasant.

This poem was also somewhat inspired by the song "Little Soldier Boy" from the Avatar series.  Listen to it online.

PTSD can result from awful experiences such as war.  There are ways to understand and support people with PTSD.

TBI comes from head wounds, in Mad Ercole's case the impact of a cannonball.  It often causes psychological and emotional problems.  Understand how to help people with TBI.  Read what survivors say about their experiences and what helps the most.

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