Small Pain in My Chest by Michael Mack was read over to 5000 people, at the funeral of the first Blackhawk helicopter pilot, who was shot down in Iraq. It is also read at the Vietnam Veterans meetings. The poem shows the pain suffered by the soldiers in a war. It also portrays the human spirits in times of war and crisis.
The summary of the poem Small Pain in My Chest is given below.
The narrator comes across a soldier who was sitting under a tree, peacefully. As the narrator walks towards him, the soldier summons him. The narrator sees a number of soldiers lying dead, who had fought a long and difficult battle throughout the night and had died in the battle.
The young soldier was smiling at its best to hide his pain and asks the narrator if he could help him. He says he needs a sip of water as he had been fighting all night without rest and is having a small pain in his chest.
The narrator finds a large reddish-brown stain of blood on the soldier’s shirt. The stain is a mixture of his blood and the local dirt. The soldier consoles the narrator that his wound is not a big one and he considers himself luckier than his fellow soldiers as they have already died whereas he had survived with only a small pain in his chest.
The soldier smiles again and was feeling weak, he says that he is feeling weak because of fatigue and old age. He tells the narrator that though there was sunshine, he was feeling cold. The soldier then describes his experience of the battle which took place at night. He says that he along with a troop of two hundred soldiers was climbing a hill and as they reached the top, there was an explosion and then he felt this small pain in his chest. It seemed that the soldier was injured in the explosion and the pain was of the injury that he went through.
The soldier tried to help himself and looked around but he only found big craters in the earth due to explosion and the bodies of dead soldiers all around him. He further says that he was continuously firing at his enemy but could not for long due to the small pain in his chest.
The soldier thanks the narrator when the latter gives him a bottle of water and says that he was grateful to him. The soldier smiles at the narrator which makes the narrator feel that it was the brightest smile he had ever seen. It was because the soldier was hiding the pain which he was undergoing with his smile. The soldier then feels bad and tells the narrator that though he is an enthusiastic and big man, still he was defeated and left with a small pain in his chest.
The soldier thinks about his family. He thinks about the reaction of his wife and his mother if they would see him sitting there. He did not know what his wife would think of him when she would find a man of such courage and energy, defeated by a small pain in his chest. He thinks about his mother then. His mother while holding him close to her chest would never had imagined that his son would be defeated in the battlefield and would sit there with a small pain in his chest.
The soldiers looks up at the sun and sees darkness everywhere. He finds the sun growing dim and darkness engulfing the day which has just began. Then he tells the narrator that before he would go any further, he wants to take some rest. After saying this, the soldier dies from the pain in his chest. The narrator feels that because of the heavy pain from such fatal wounds, the soldier was losing his senses and was seeing darkness all around him.
The narrator cannot recall what happened after that. The narrator had put his arms around the dead soldier and as he pulled him towards himself, the narrator could feel their wounds pressed against each other- the large one in the narrator’s heart against the small one in the soldier’s chest. The narrator was deeply agonized by the suffering of the soldier who finally dies from the small pain in his chest.
About the Poet:
Michael Mack is an American poet. He grew up in Missouri and served the Air Force for five years. He is now a member of the Florida State Poetry Association. He continues to give readings and teach poetry appreciation at the county outreach centres. His famous poems include: The Last Words of Mary Dodd, Counting Clouds, The Hallways of My Mind, False Reality and The Robot.
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