Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Tread Softly – a poem

By Michael J. Whelan

Michael J. Whlean served as a peacekeeper with the Irish Army in South Lebanon and Kosovo. He was 2nd Place Winner of the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 2011 and selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2012. His poems and short stories have been published in Cyphers, Crannog and The Moth. (


It’s raining, always is,

that sticky hazy rain that gets down your neck,

behind your ears and saturates your face, your hair

as soon as you step from the vehicle

even though the uniform is multilayered,

your boots get soggy straight away

and the pistol grip on the rifle resting in your arms

slips in your fist.

You’re not really afraid – for yourself,

though your heart is racing approaching

the recently finished mass grave- their hurting ground

covered in fresh clay, flags and wreaths,

you’ve just driven over the ancient village cemetery as you entered

like it was a cross country speed test on rough ground,

the old grave markers are long gone.

No, you’re not afraid for yourself,

the fear comes when no adult arrives to greet you

or check out your party as a possible threat

save for the elderly ones corralling young children

behind hedges and outhouses on the high ground,

who watch you as you watch them

barefoot and half dressed in the rain

and you taking photographs of yourselves

at the place of their parents.

You – the uniforms that stormed into their hurting place

feeling like liberators but to them resembling conquerors,

you who come to help but instead bring memories of terror

and usher a fear they keep from the last time

soldiers conquered this place,

you who tread softly then when you realize what you have done,

when you see the muddied feet of innocence and the future in their eyes

peering down.