dust bunnies and combat boots

The not-a-prayer rug
beside my Army bunk
guards bare soles at night.

Pictograms of Kalashnikovs,
grenades, and A.P.C.s
are part of its bazaar tapestry.

DFAC peanut butter
laces the spring I have
set under my cot, next to my boots.

The snap of the trap
summons me to my prey.
I find each of us, kneeling.

In the dark.
In a box.
Facing west.


Author’s note: A Kalashnikov is any one of a series of rifles, such as the A.K.-47, based on an original design by Russian arms inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov. The initialism A.P.C. stands for “Armored Personnel Carrier.” In the U.S. Army, the acronym DFAC, pronounced “DEE-fack,” stands for “dining facility”—what earlier generations of soldiers called a “chow hall.”

Author: Randy Brown

Randy Brown was embedded as a civilian journalist in 2011 with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, the Iowa National Guard unit with which he served before retiring in 2010. He is a free lance writer and editor, and he operates a blog about military writing and about his former unit at www.redbullrising.com. His book of poetry is Welcome to FOB Haiku.

1 thought on “dust bunnies and combat boots”

  1. This is a wonderful poem. I am probably about to write wretched-excess literary criticism in this comment. But it’s a free country, and here is how I read this poem.

    One of Randy Brown’s most endearing traits as a poet (and probably as a person, too) is his modesty. The speakers of this poem and other poems in his first book of poems (Welcome to FOB Haiku) are not given to posturing as steely warriors or weary warriors or action-film patriots, and not given to the narcissism of so much contemporary poetry.

    The speakers of Randy Brown’s best poems are open to moments of humbling self-awareness, recognitions that help us understand the condition of being a soldier or a veteran. Like movie audiences, poetry readers want to sense the universal when they experience the particular stories of individuals. “Dust bunnies and combat boots” does that.

    The speaker of this poem has a probably uncomfortable ah-ha moment understanding his commonality with the rat he has just killed. He shares the posture and to some extent the vulnerability of the rat.

    We might expect this sudden awareness to engender empathy and regret, and I would hope so, but we might be wrong: the poet has wisely left us with the shock of incomplete understanding followed by the shock of the abrupt ending.

    Randy Brown enjoys puns and wink-wink word play (bared soles/souls on a non-prayer rug, bizarre/bazaar). “Facing west” evokes WWI slang of “gone west” as a euphemism for having been killed in action. Dust bunnies beside combat boots suggests a comic absurdity.

    This gentle humor probably lulls most readers into an unguarded relaxation that mirrors the probable ease of the speaker in his bunk, until that explosive snap. That snap reminded me of the practice in some Zen temples during meditation when the master, standing quietly behind a meditating monk, shatters the quiet with a loud and unexpected noise to bring that monk back from distractions.

    The snap awakens the speaker, in one or the other sense of the word. He is summoned, a subtle suggestion that he is no longer a person with volition (or the illusion of volition), but a person responding to something bigger.

    Randy Brown is partial to the structure of the haiku, if not all of its traditional strictures, as we see in the first four stanzas here.

    In the spirit of haiku, the last stanza recreates for the reader someone else’s experience, without commentary. The momentum of the poem carries the reader beyond the last line into an empty space where that reader cannot avoid coming to his or her own understanding of the experience, whether or not the reader and poet would agree on what it all means.

    A soldier who sets a lethal trap ends up in a prayerful attitude imagining his own vulnerability. This gets at a universal truth.

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