Canto 21 of A War Papyrus

Of those with fetishes
For war-ravaged freaks,
Mulattoes, of sorts,
Engendered as antithetical blends
Of aged youth and
Pulchritude mauled

And the war torn ravages of this life
(Atheists that they might be
Passively contemplating the next life indifferently,
Phlegmatically, as the nothingness that it was),
Who, veterans, impaired and blighted as they were,
Were a novelty whom those so perverted
Yearned for,

And not only for it,
But for a surfeit that would make them full,
But fools they were
Scratching such an itch, for
Such hungers were implacable, insatiable,
And metastasized insidiously in time,
Ravaging the ravagers.

But second-time victims they, these mauled, were not,
For sold on the auction block of space and time,
Consisting largely of dark corners in open streets,
The selling of themselves was of their own volition
As much as one had volition beyond coming to terms
With that which was sordid and inuring oneself to it
As stray dogs did of lying
Under benches at bus stops on pavement paved in dirt.
The self, to a large degree, was the environment,
And the environment was as far from the immaculate
As it could get

Slaves, only, of instinctual hungers (no longer able to refuse refuse–
One meal every other day at the soup kitchen being insufficient–
And as a consequence of digging in bins, becoming sick
And no longer able to eat that which was thrown away,
They threw themselves away at the first bidder who could
Throw some change their way, which could be used later
To buy something, anything, any anodyne at all—
Food, alcohol, pills–that would stifle hunger pains),

They sold what they had to these distinguished gray hairs.
Prostitutes that they became (prostitutes they and everyone were,
All selling something of themselves: iintellect, time, possessions,
Body, another form of possession), they hustled
But as all men hustled, and as all men
Were hustlers for money, with the things they either made or were and
Sold in the market (John Locke claiming work was taking
That in the state of nature and processing or refining it
For human consumption), and like the currency that they traded with,
They, too, were commodities of sorts.

And I, one of these sorts, (albeit, in my estimation, magnitude
Perhaps, unprecedented in scope and speed)
Am, like all men, in free fall from birth to death, but more,
I, who always wanted to see life, see it fully,
For how else could it best be seen
But by falling through all stratum of illusionary status
And debunked moral codes and strictures
As immaterial as layers of clouds and then
Plunge head first
Into this sordid terrestrial arena,
A Flavian amphitheater, a Colosseum
Of sorts, with all this ongoing wartime savagery.
Now it is only in my head–it never leaves my head
(Battles will go on and on like this,
Like the Peloponnesian War,
To my death) .

Iconoclast, apostate, perhaps I am, but
If I could return to the front lines I would.
However, it was their choice, if not
Zelensky’s voice, to throw some of us,
Under the bus
With these disingenuous promises
Of going to the West
(Mendacious they were, but not outright lies,
No not outright lies,
As it in fact is a west of sorts
Albeit in hundreds and not
Tens of thousands of miles) .
And if I could return to the front lines I would.

And of that which happened,
It happened that I was sick, weakened
In body and mental fortitude, and while I was
Walking the streets in the rain one night,
One night a stranger spoke to me.
“Young man,” he said,
And I hearkened to the sound
Which was a summons
Not of God
Nor the devil
But of real life,
The way it really was
And not the way one wanted it to be.
And of course, it would lead to many sellings.
A first-time exposed to anything
Was never the last time.

And I went to him. This was my sin.
And yet, all things considered,
It was just a peccadillo,
Just a venial sin next
To the act of demeaning
Human beings into “targets”
For the slaying in these
Wartime atrocities

Abandoned pets
Turn to instinct
(Individual cats
To their respective hunts,
Dog gangsters to roaming packs
Like Spartan youths ravaging Helot villages,
And mutilated man to
Whoever he can by prostituting himself
For any paltry sum)

If solicitude, kindness, caring,
However it is termed,
Were as water, food, and shelter
And thus, the rarefied and virtuous
Being sustenance
Instead of these basic tangibles
That required money to access
And maintain base countenance,
The world would be a vastly different place indeed.
But it was what it was
And with foundations changing
As they did ad nauseam beneath him,
He just had to accept his fate
To overcome the vertigo and to get his footing.
He just needed to accept his fate.
And had we just accepted ours
–Allowed the Russians to enter
And feigned felicity
And accepted the humiliation,
This gross arrogation, Putin would
Twenty years hence, be dead,
As would any Russian governor of Ukraine.
And long before that
These dictators and doctrinaire acolytes
Would find all mandates
Quashed in inaction and themselves
Absorbed by Ukrainian
Culture, traditions, and language.
Had we just accepted
We could have reemerged unscathed.
But it is far too late for that.

From the sublime to bathos–
No from wars of societies
To the wars in one man
To preserve body and soul–
Here we see
Desperate acts of futility consummated
For paltry sums to make it through the day.
Here we see
Prayers, hopes directed at an unknown entity,
Which were the natural responses irrespective of
Religious creed or affiliation or lack of.
By syllogism, God being an infinity, and outer space
A vacuousness, a perennial emptiness or nothingness
Except for a fiery trail of loose gravel
That still came about as vestige material
From that exploded matter,
God was nothingness.

Yes, if solicitude, kindness, caring,
However, it is termed,
Were as water, food, and shelter
And thus, the rarefied and virtuous
Being sustenance
Instead of these basic tangibles
That required money to access
And maintain basic countenance–
Money that came about by
Exploiting and consenting
To be exploited for a fee–
Then life would,
Indeed, be worth living;
Then, every sentient being
When wanting to love so purely,
So emphatically, would
No longer find it superseded
By this pugnacious appetite
For the hunt and the kill

What were we but a fiery trail of loose gravel
That congealed; what were we
But vestige material
From that exploded mass, still expanding,
Still baking in pockets, 13 billion years later – –
The density of mass, with enough time,
Insidiously dispersed and liquidated in the cold wake
Of that expanse; and what was He, God,
But loose debris
Amidst the cold perennial nothingness
That was His most quintessential trait.

No, loose gravel amidst all this vapid space could not be expected
To intervene in the brief lives of these chemical anomalies
Of carbon that were sometimes alive on a captive rock
Of a captive star


Steven David Justin Sills is an American poet and novelist whose first book, An American Papyrus, was published by the New Poets Series in 1990. The book is in various libraries and a scanned copy is in the Internet Archive. After completing his last novel, The Three Hour Lady, the Russo-Ukrainian War began and he decided to return to the art of poetry as the best means of conveying the trauma of war and the struggle for and the struggles of human existence. This particular canto of the long poem, “A War Papyrus” examines perverse relationships that develop in the uncivilized times of war and prostitution amongst metaphysical and existential questions.