Winona Fetherolf & Caroline LeBlanc







The Hands of War




In this Christmas snow, if planes get off the runway

their PA systems will crackle,  « Some of our military

personnel are with us.  Let’s give them a big hand….

We thank you for your service in our nation’s stand


against terror. » When I fly, I wonder if others share

my doubts, my angst about the horrors of warfare.

Does the evening news make them think a round

of cheer will dispel our soldiers’ troubles?  I don’t


know soldiers who expect a hand from civilians.

True, special programs give « Families of the Fallen »

« survivor support » after a beloved’s sacrifice of life or limb,

& some count on food stamps to help feed their children.


Strapped in my too narrow seat, I sit stock-still & stare.

What would a Quaker at Meeting do if enemies were there?




Is an enemy near or am I a Quaker at Meeting not yet

moved to stand & speak about the last meals I ate

with my deployed husband & son?  About how I savor

each crumb of memories?  While they were safe at home


I read poems about Vietnam when my husband fought

as a Green Beret.  The year before in DC, Tsou Tai Tai

taught Chinese to his group, & we treated demonstrators

at the War Moratorium on the Mall.  After, I nursed « lifers »


& draftees in Okinawa while my husband & team travelled

on missions. Years later, “back in the world, » the Army’s nickel

sent him to med school, while I left our toddlers in the family’s care

& went off to Army Nurse Basic.  They inoculated me against rare


diseases, but not the grief, not the terror.  Vietnam loomed too large—

our hours apart, the days & nights I had nursed troops in my charge.




Whatever the hour, Army Nurses are charged with the health of US troop.

We fired & cleaned Colt 45s, practiced Mass Cals & debrided wounds.

Future test items, DIs signaled by pounding the podium.  “Nuclear

& chemical attacks. You can survive, if you follow proper procedure. »


We watched hours of slides—Japanese maimed by the first nukes,

Americans burned & gassed.  We put on & removed charcoal suits.

Troop trucks took us into deep woods for our own taste of the gas

swelled in a windowless shed.  We needed no order to don our masks.


“Proper procedure will save your life,” admonished our Sergeant

once again, before he led us into the fog.  Too soon he barked,

“Remove your mask.”  Each of us gagged on gas, tears, & snot.

“Replace your mask,” his hoarse bellow came like a welcome shot.


The possibility of saving troops gassed in combat felt unreal,

even if we did not die from our own battle theater ordeals.




Of course, I lived through my Basic Training ordeal

& travelled from Texas to Massachusetts where I filled

my arms with my sons’ soft bodies. In Fort Dix’s temporary

housing, roaches kept us awake.  At work, I treated basic trainees—


even peace wounds psyches.  My hands stroked my sons,

& I nurtured them with all the left-over vigor I had.  Some

things were almost too much.  Like the night our babysitter’s

boyfriend stole my dead grandmother’s rhinestone pins


while my sons slept in the next room.  High on pot, the thieves

left a trail of Klondike Bar wrappers.  It snaked from my freezer

to their stolen stash of guns. Like, the Corp’s threat when I refused

a « joint » assignment four hours from my husband.  It was true.


Tender enthusiasms mattered little to the Army, after all.

No surprise—common wisdom has it women’s wars are small.




        And on Earth, Peace? artwork by Winona Featherolf






Though common wisdom has it women’s wars are small,

I resigned my commission while my husband answered the call

to serve in new wars where he treated kids maimed in battle.

At home, I managed the family & gave others like me counsel.


One son had blond, the other brown hair.  Both grew up

with war & chose sides—one preferred weapons,

one the medical profession—healing & wounding, front

& back on the coin of the warrior’s struggle with violent forces.


At the Fort Drum gym, I’ve watched healthy looking men

sit to play volleyball & slide when others would run.

Their net was low, as it would be for children, as it must be

for troops who have suffered traumatic brain injuries


when bombs bounced their brains inside the caverns

of skulls, shaped so much like crucibles of cupped hands.




Soldiers’ skulls, so like crucibles of cupped hands

bake inside Kevlar helmets worn in contested lands.

At three this morning, before their charter plane

touches down, soldiers trade Kevlar for soft caps.


It is minus nine degrees on the tarmac as the last

of the Third return from their tour in the desert—

their fourth.  Bareheaded, they march into the gym

below high flying American flags & military emblems.


« You are my hero. »  « Welcome home, » signs blare.

Adults & children wave tiny flags made of paper

in hands that do not care to stay warm under covers while

husbands & wives, father & mothers, brothers & sisters arrive.


An Army band fills our waiting-time with patriotic ditties.

Wavy white screens cycle slides of soldiers “in country.”




In waves cycling behind white screens, my soldier is lost

& a distance farther than the missions’ stands between us.

Still, we dare not cross the divide until the Command

Sergeant Major shouts his order:  « DiiiSsss-Missed! »


Both phalanxes spill wave into wave onto the court.

At jump lines, I join others who have their children in tow.

Each of us searches the crowd for that beloved face

not touched—in how long?  Almost before we can trace


hair or lips, photographers snap shots for papers & TV,

thrust hand-held mikes before our faces.  They ask us clichéd

questions while hand in hand, we embrace each happy moment

we’re given.  Soon enough, our lives could be a different hell


if the sand in their boots & gloves won’t go away.  We know.

Christmas delays on runways? Clap your hands! It’s only snow.











Caroline LeBlanc, MFA, MS, RN is Writer in Residence at the Museum of the American Military Family. In partnership with the national Telling Project staff, she is co-producing/writing Telling, Albuquerque, a 9/11/2104 testimonial theatrical event in which military veterans and family members perform their own stories.  In 2014 she directed 4 Voices on the 4th, a collaborative spoken word performance with three other women poet/writer military family members.  Since relocating to Albuquerque in 2013, she has hosted a writing salon for women military veterans and family members.  In 2011 Spalding University awarded her an MFA in Creative Writing.  Her poems have been published in her 2010 chapbook, Smoky Ink and a Touch of Honeysuckle, as well as online and in a number of print journals.  She is a member of the Apronistas Art Group, which has, for the past three years produced community installations of art & word aprons as part of Albuquerque’s annual Women in Creativity month.  Her art has been in a number of group shows in the Albuquerque area.





Winona Fetherolf is a ritual artist living and working in Albuquerque NM.  She has worked as an art teacher and an expressive arts therapist.  Now she is self-employed doing her own art, spiritual practice and writing.  This etching was done as part of her undergraduate studies.  It was inspired by the ravages of America’s war in Vietnam.  Her website is


The piece is entitled And On Earth, Peace? The artist’s proof of an etching done in 1969.



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