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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


by Kevin Hodgson

They published front line letters this week in the New Yorker and they arrived like missives in the night, exploding my own sense of calm from a world away with an increasing powerful detonation of fear and bravado.
As I sank down between the words, I could almost taste the fine grit of sand on my tongue and the layers of dust on my teeth. I could almost feel the dry scorch of the air of the desert days and the bone-chilling cold of the nights beneath the shooting stars. I could almost sense the tight clench of the M16 gun barrel between my fingers and the rattle of the Humvee over potholed roads in my bones.
(But I’d be lying – I was just another passive reader in a safe house on the other side of the universe, drinking coffee and folding laundry and not even thinking about IEDs or mortars or spies along the roadside or midnight raids or body parts)
I spied in from afar on these young men writing to mothers -- young women reaching out to fathers --
friends explaining to friends --
inching towards a way of trying to understand themselves what was happening,
what had happened,
why they had done what they had done or feared what they were going to do,
even as the military censors were watching (and I was watching the censors watching the soldiers watching the roads and imagined another strange set of frightened eyes, trailing our soldiers from the darkened corners of bombed out buildings)
and I realized that these script characters on the page ultimately failed them,
powerful though they were,
the words were not nearly enough ammunition to overcome this internal enemy of theirs and might never be.
There was blood on my back and hands, and pain, too, but it wasn’t real, just images from someone else’s thoughts and I felt like the intruder into the minds of these writers emerging from reality seared with strangeness and violence.
Yet, here they were, moving across the page like armies in the dunes
– the words, I mean –
and so I gently reached out and grabbed a handful of those letters,
placing them in my pocket for safe keeping – doing my best to protect them and vowing to never forget they were there (but I do, from time to time, until my fingers accidentally wrap around the crinkled papers at the bottom of my memory and I suddenly realize that they are there in harm’s way, and I am caught again in the wave of forgetting)
contemplating that imaginary border crossing between Iran and Iraq
where the man I knew from long ago remains steadfast at his security post,

Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusett, and a technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. He has his own Weblog ( in which he explores the intersections of writing, technology, education and other issues.