Saturday, April 6, 2019


It is, once again, time for poetry. So, my favorite is still Billy Collins.

The Country by Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time -

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

–Billy Collins, from Nine Horses: Poems

For some reason I read this and every time I'm carried back to Failaka Island where we, the IRT, were using radar to observe the Iraqi coastline and the various oil runners that tried to slip out of Umm Qasr, ABOT, KAOT and even, when the atmospherics permitted, out of the Shatt al Arab. But there we were just the 35 of us and our radar and communications systems with the blockade forces and one night there was Petty Officer Cole standing security watch at one of our entry control points and he was 'cold' so he built a little fire all by himself. He used pallets and old debris from the Iraqi occupation and in no time at all he had flames shooting 15 feet into the air a little after 2 in the morning. It was something of a surprise.

Cole was an interesting (psycho) who relayed to me the news his father gave him about speeding up his departure from the Navy. I should have known better but I asked, "what did he propose?" Cole said his dad told him to punch an officer and the Navy would toss him out. I allowed as how this was so and added that we'd probably arrange to send him to the brig at Miramar for 3-6 years after his court martial and he should consider that time in the Navy too.

Still, a gigantic raging fire on the beach just a few miles off the Iraqi coast where the officers that sent us there told us they had proposed setting us up on Bubiyan Island at first but then conceded that Intel was right and an Iraqi spec ops team would swim the channel one night and slit all our throats.

Working for the Commander, Middle East Force was always entertaining.


Brig said...

Now I know why grandpa kept the SA matches in a tin with a tight lid...
What became of psycho Cole?

HMS Defiant said...

I don't know. When we returned to the States all of us went to our own home stations. We came from 14 mobile units in 11 states. I suppose he went back to Treasure Island and probably got out the normal way since I don't recall his being one of the court martial cases we had to review at the staff level and those things always got reviewed at the staff level.