“Tramp!” goes the boot as it crushes the ground,
“Stomp!” goes the heel, and “Slap” goes the toe.
The rucksack creaks and squeaks, the ponderous sounds
Of overloaded canvas, in time with the slow,
Slow, agonizing pace of too many pounds
At least a hundred, sagging from my spine.
I feel it in my shoulders, I feel it in my feet
Slapping down and down and yet again down,
Always slapping down.
With shockwaves like a hammer on hamburger meat
Plodding on clay, on shale, on grass, weed and bush
Trudging in the dust of the field or echoing on the street.
Pain from toe to heel, pain from heel to knee and then
Shooting up in grinding vibrations to hips and lumbar spine
As every one of these weary, dogged men
Stoop and limp and plod under the weight of the ruck;
That damned unwieldy tick that we’ve strapped on again;
To carry across the land.
Through the night, through the rain,
Through the draws and hills and swamps and thorn;
Pitch black sticks in the pitch black night
That stab you in the eye with careless scorn.
The “wait-a-minute” vines that claw and clutch and drag
And lie in wait for our heels, in the dark before the morn,
As we curse our way onwards in pitch black
Sans moon and stars, and wish we were never born,
Or if born, at least born normal people, not the sort
Who volunteer for this tomfoolery!
But that awful ruck!
All else is really an afterthought, my mind always returns
To that creaking, sagging, soul crushing bundle of suck
Ninety pounds of gear on my back: ammo, water, food
Clothes, med bag, and explosives just for luck;
Then, to top it off a 25lb necklace! The iron pig,
Swinging in front of me by its sling.
80 clinking rounds in the feed tray, to start with,
“Carry as much ammo as you can bring.”
And then a bandoleer of 120 more, because hey, you never know!
Muzzle and bipod stick out like a broken wing,
Catching the brush and shifting, sliding canvas on my collar,
After a few hours that will start to sting.
But someone has to carry it, right?
It’s really just the weight.
I carry it, not on my spine, but on my soul like a brick.
My spirits sink as hour after painful hour drags on,
And from twenty-two to zero-two we’ve moved barely a klick
And left half our mojo behind, somewhere in the draw.
The wait-a-minute vines got it. The bush was just too thick.
We hit the tracks and make up some time,
Urging speed from battered limbs and trying our best
Not to twist our ankles between the ties,
Or in the gravel. Pushing on. Only a minute for a rest.
Behind schedule. Forget security, out on the road,
And run. We need to make link-up, so haul butt
With dogged, shuffling, comical steps under the load,
For half a mile of open blacktop,
Ready to dive into the brush if a glimmer showed.
Of headlight, but nothing comes. Civilized people
Are all asleep right now. We run
Praying there’s a ride at the end of this one.
Alas, only an angry, nervous face,
And a stream, and a quick, “Follow us.”
Then lights running off into the darkness.
“Awww. Sad face.” Someone says, but no more fuss.
These guys are running light, and they know the way,
And they’re fresh. We barely have breath to cuss
And we have a guy with a sprained ankle.
Little things like that, you know, they add up.
Who’d have thought?
The lights go on, and on, and on
Up the ravine. We fall behind, get separated.
Link back up, move out again, fall behind
And half our element moves on without us.
If it weren’t for the injured guy I wouldn’t mind.
I swear I’d still smoke half of them even now.
But this guy can barely limp, and I can’t find
The slightest glimmer of light ahead, just black.
“Crossload his gear.” Everyone gets something.
They wait for us, we link up again, move back out.
Farther and farther, up and down, on and on.
This is not much fun, I think, with a slight pout.
No one can see my face, so I’ll pout if I like,
I just want to be rid, once and for all, of this
But here we are.
Forming a perimeter, facing out, catching a breath
A quick meeting in the center and the word comes out,
“We’re stopping here tonight. Rucksack flop.”
Tonight, indeed? All two hours of it before it’s light?
But at least we can stop,
And let the ruck do the work:
Fall over backwards
And rest on the ground, leaning against that beast
Like a lazyboy recliner, as all the stress
And tension drift away and are released.
Every muscle and sinew are totally relaxed,
And light and warmth and pure endorphin high
Flood every corner of my being in a rushing flow
Of pure, unbridled bliss.
A bliss which, without the rucksack, I would never know.