leaving empty

Two Buddhas once stood like giants
in the Afghan province of Bamiyan
until the Taliban blasted them down.
They had been carved into the side of a mountain
fifteen hundred years ago.

I would have liked to have seen
even the voids that remain,
but our mission changed before we arrived.
We returned the region to those who live there.
It was safe enough, I guess. Green on the map.

We moved on to Parwan and Panjshir
and I forgot about the Buddhas.
With a soldier’s eyes, I have seen in other countries
churches built on temples, and mosques built on churches.
We are not Crusaders here, however. We are builders of “capacity.”

My light colonel quotes a TV show:
“All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”
The West promised a surge of enlightenment,
but soon we will leave
nothing but emptiness.

Nearly fifteen years have passed
since the Taliban left.
And I have counted each day
of our boots-on-ground time,
praying for progress and last-minute peace.

I am a fool in an Army of fools,
hugging the Buddha’s foot.