War Drum



This poem is about those mental scenes we might rehearse, of the moment when we meet, again, someone we consider to be an enemy, and that no man's land that exists somewhere between the desire for revenge and forgiveness.

I can hear the ‘thump-thump, thump-thump’ in my ears
I can feel the pounding in my chest
This cacophony of primal timpani
Music which allows me no rest

This rhythm of war
I know all too well
This beat now crescendos
It’s origin, not in heaven, but in hell

My heart, like a mallet
Strikes my ribs, one-by-one
Sounding out this melody
This composition, ‘Tears of The Sun’

The tempo quickens, then slows
Then gathers momentum again
I struggle to catch my breath
As I reach for, pick up, my pen

It begins a dance across the page
Like a warrior preparing to fight
Spins and lunges ever faster
Eyes ablaze in the firelight

Feet pound the earth
Guttural screams pierce the night
Spear strikes shield
In rehearsal for daylight

This practiced vengeance
The cries of war on my breath
I am now transformed
Into an instrument of death

I stare at the page in front of me
My eyes see, but do not comprehend
Words, the very breath of violence
Like arrows, I now prepare to send

Words, like paint
My visage now adorn
Streaks of red and white
Cover the scars left by war

You drew first blood
And left me for dead
You should have finished me
Now I come for you instead

You were skilled with the sword
Practiced in the art of strife
A master of struggle and conflict
Brought me within an inch of my life

Well-read in the art of bloodshed
You schooled me with every stroke
Every blow my education
Split-lips, broken teeth, my reward if I spoke

They say ‘that which does not kill you
Makes you that much stronger’
If that is indeed the truth
Then fear me, for I am weak no longer

Yes, fear me, let your knees tremble
And terror fill your eyes
Because this drum that now beats
Is composing your demise

The dawn is fast approaching
The beat now heralds the sun
It is your blood that will stain the earth
Drawn from your veins, by this warrior son

I am much stronger now, more fierce
And unafraid to fight
Sharpening my blade, I’ve waited
For this moment to take your life

The blood in my veins
Like adamantium, reinforces my intent
You can try to kill me
But I will not relent

Like Wolverine, I’ve died more than once
Always come back from the dead
The pupil has now become the master
Your education commences, my schooling at an end

The break of dawn comes at last
And light touches the horizon
The beating of the drum grows loud again
I feel anticipation rising

I look for you in the half-light
As the sun begins to ascend
Try to make out your figure
The place where you will meet your end

As the sun climbs higher
From my vantage point, I spy your form
I advance to your position
My heart, all the while, beats with scorn

I am much closer now
Close enough to see your face
A flash of recognition in your eyes
Ah — you did not expect me in this place

But as my eyes examine
This enemy that stands before me
I cannot help but notice
You are not wearing a stitch of clothing

Naked and covered in bruises
Blood still seeps from wounds unhealed
No weapon in your hand
There is nothing that is not revealed

Gone is the look of defiance
Brutal arrogance and spite
That murderous inferno
Now replaced with defeat in your eye

This is most disconcerting
And not the way I fight
I cannot kill an unarmed man
This pitiful creature before my sight

A moment I thought I would relish
I see my enemy undone
It does not bring an ounce of pleasure
Instead causes me to look up the sun

In its ascending light
All has been revealed
My enemy, you engaged one fight too many
Your fate is now sealed

In the light of day
My paint-streaked face is ridiculous and wet
My warmongering pointless now
My enemy is no threat

A spear in my right hand
My shield in the other
The sword hanging at my side
Might as well be — feathers

Wings would serve me better
To carry me from this place
There is no joy in triumph here
My enemy laid low in his disgrace

You took pleasure in striking me down
Even hoped that I would die
But as I look upon you now
You are but a shadow of a lie

I cannot become like you
Another teacher I must seek
I do not wish to share your end
That path is truly bleak

Yes, I found my voice
In spite of your abuse
But here you are in front of me
And no, I will not accuse

I must abandon this study of war
And find a more noble way
I forgive the debt you owe me
For I know you will never pay

Though you crushed, nearly destroyed me
Left me for dead in that place
My heart begins to beat again
This time, to the unforced rhythm of Grace


War Drum © 2015 by Kris Peterson. All Rights Reserved.


PS. Thank you if you read all the way to the end! I was going to apologize for the length of this poem, but in the end realized that I had to keep writing until my pen stopped, and that is not something I must apologize for. It has a life all its own.

These stanzas represent years of processing thoughts and emotions, and though this poem seemingly resolves the tension and anger at the end, life is rarely ever that neat and simple. I've realized that forgiveness is not an end in itself, but rather the catalyst for the real process of healing to begin.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do in this life. Sometimes it comes at great price for the one who forgives. Forgiveness does not necessarily make right the wrong that what was done but, for me at least, seems to rather be a decision to recuse myself from the exhausting task of being prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. I've realized I do none of those things well.

It comes down to this; daily choosing which drum-beat I wish to sync my life to, and trying to learn the melody that goes with it.

Thanks again for reading!


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