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The Good Soldier

                                                          {forthcoming in MMM Vol. X.}

By John Jeffire


The answers of the captured

Double agent arrive too quickly,

Too easily, too well rehearsed.

The emergency room physician

Is not a skilled interrogator.

The swelling golfball bulging

From my forehead?

Damn kid never pays attention.

Walked right into a counter

At K-Mart, wham,

Never even saw it coming.

And the arm that dangles

From my left side,

Hanging like a stroke

Victim’s useless limb?

Hell, I tried to help him up

The stairs but, damn kid never

Pays attention, so I tried

To help him up the stairs,

But he pulls away

Just when I pull

To help him and, pop, bango,

Out come the arm.


After release at Dairy Queen,

He tells me I am tough.

You never cried, man.

You took it like a soldier.

Kept your mouth shut.

That’s a good man.

I am five years old but

I’m a good man.

You woulda never got it put

Back into place if we didn’t

Notice how you couldn’t lift it up.

You’re damn lucky we care about you.

I am lucky. I am cared for.

My father says I’m tough.

I wear my sling proudly.

I will never leak a word

That betrays pain to the enemy.

Pain is our secret sign.

We keep it under wraps.

Name, rank, serial number.

I am a grown man now.

The cartilage in my chest

Never healed properly and

A mass of scartissue forms a

Permanent, disfigured wall

Over my purpled heart.

Here, run your hand over

The ripped terrain of my duty.

I am the veteran who doesn’t

Answer the reunion invitation.

Sorry, but I have nothing to say

Except what is in this poem.

The mass of scabbed memory

Clumped off my left breastbone

Is a private badge of honor.



John Jeffire is the author of Motown Burning, a novel set during the 1967 Detroit Riot and its aftermath. In 2005, the book was named Grand Prize Winner in the Mount Arrowsmith Novel Competition and in 2007 it won a Gold Medal for Regional Fiction in the Independent Publisher Awards. In the summer of 2006, his play adaptation of the book was performed as a staged reading by Detroit 's Abreact Theater at the Heartlande Drama Festival. Speaking of Motown Burning, former chair of the Pulitzer Jury Philip F. O'Connor said, "It works. I don't often say that, but it has a drive and integrity that gives it credible life....I find a novel with heart."

Jeffire's stories, poems, and essays have appeared in magazines and journals such as Parenting, The English Journal, America , Into the Teeth of the Wind, and The South Coast Poetry Journal. His first book of poetry, Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone, is now available at The Aquarius Press on its Living Detroit Series. Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Levine calls the book "a terrific one for our city."

Recently, the first chapter of his second novel, River Rouge, won first prize in the 2007 Springfed Arts Metro Detroit Fiction Contest. In 2008, the full manuscript for River Rouge was a finalist for the University of Michigan Literary Fiction Awards, while Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone has been nominated for the 2009 Michigan Notable Book Award. .

Born in Detroit of Armenian descent, he was raised in the East End of Dearborn, a southern suburb of Detroit. Later, his parents bought a bar in Ohio , where he spent his formative years tending bar, bouncing, and cooking. He was formally educated at St. Lawrence University, Northeastern University, and Boston University. He has taught at Northeastern, Heidelberg College , The University of Findlay, and for three years at The Allen Correctional Institute, a medium security prison.

Wrestling has also been an important part of his life. He took part in several hundred bouts as an athlete, and his 1995 team at The University of Findlay won the small college national championship, earning Jeffire NAIA national collegiate coach of the year honors. In 1997, he was enshrined in the Hancock County (OH) Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2006 he was inducted into The University of Findlay's Athletic Hall of Fame.

He currently lives in Clinton Township, MI, with his wife, daughter, son, and two hyperactive Jack Russells. For more on the author and his work, visit