Small Pain in My Chest by Michael Mack was read over to 5000 people, at the funeral of the first Black Hawk 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.
War has lasting and deep effects on those who serve in the war. This is the theme of the poem in which the poet has clearly brought out the physical, mental and psychological agony that the soldiers go through in the battlefield.
Physical Agony: Soldiers have to endure appalling conditions on the battlefield. They have to remain without food and water for so many days. Surrounded by the enemy forces, their lives are always at risk. In the process, they get fatigued, wounded but they have no one to help them to. Therefore, they remain on the battlefield undergoing immense physical agony from the physical injuries that they had suffered.
Emotional Agony: The soldiers kill each other, though they may not want to. Circumstances force them to end someone’s life. This act brings them sorrow. Surrounded by dead bodies, amidst the pain and fear, they are haunted by seclusion.
The soldiers often feel like reaching out to their families and to share their grief with them. Often they think about their families as to how would they react when they would see their terrible conditions. The soldier in the poem feels ashamed that what his mother and wife would think of him to know that he gave up just because of a ‘small pain in the chest.’
Psychological Agony: The soldiers on the battlefield suffer psychological agony, usually referred to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. This disorder is caused by the trauma of war. The horrible sight of the battlefield haunts them and their memories for a long time. They often recall and re-experience the distressing events of the battlefield. War stirs their emotion, affect their body and impact their state of mind. Therefore, besides physical injuries, the stressful emotions that they go through result in great mental agony.
The poem records briefly the narrator’s experience when he meets a dying soldier. 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 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. Finally,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.