When you clean your weapon
When time and again, you clean your weapon
When you rub strong-smelling oils into your weapon
And shield it from the rain with your own body
When you swaddle it like a baby
Even though you’ve never swaddled a baby before —
You’re only nineteen, no baby, no wife —
The weapon becomes your only kin
You and the weapon are one.
When you dig trench after trench
When you dig this precious this hateful earth by handfuls
Every other handful reaches your soul
You grind this earth between your teeth
You don’t, you never will have another
You climb into the earth like into your mother’s womb
You are warm and snug
You’ve never felt this close to anyone before
You and earth are one.
When you shoot
Even when it’s at night and you don’t see the enemy’s face
Even when night hides the enemy from you and you from the enemy
And embraces each of you as her own
You smell like gunpowder
Your hands, face, hair, clothing, shoes —
No matter how much you wash them — smell of gunpowder
They smell of war
You smell of war
You and war are one.
By Borys Humenyuk
Borys Humenyuk is a Ukranian who fought in the Revolution of Dignity in February of 2014. The Revolution was a series of violent events involving protesters, riot police and unknown shooters in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. It culminated in the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government.
“When You Clean your Weapon” tells the story of war from the perspective of a young soldier, who treats his gun like a child, swaddling it and shielding it from the rain. This happens before the young man has even held a real child. He climbs into the earth, which takes him in like a womb. For a moment, he remembers his connection to nature. But then he shoots. And never again can he get rid of the smell of gunpowder. For he and the war are now one.
The poem captures how humanity is lost on the battlefield, even to those who survive. We become one with the weapon, instead of each other. Violence repeatedly gets chosen as the solution, and yet perpetuates the same problematic cycle … trench after trench. The truth is, the weapon is never clean, once it’s fired.
Borys Humenyuk is a beloved artist in the Ukraine, fondly nicknamed “The Ukrainian version of Ernest Hemingway.”
What goes through YOUR mind, heart and soul as you hear the words of this poem?
EVERYONE’S ALWAYS TRYING TO LEAVE JESUS OUT, WHICH IS ONE REASON WE’RE IN THE MESS WE’RE IN!