As Earth returns to chaos, her women brace to mourn,
excavate their buried faith, tap reservoirs of grace, to mourn.
Soldiers steady M-16s, search stillborn eyes for welcome
or signs of commonality. Ferreting no trace, they mourn.
Few are safe, where passions swell like gangrened limbs
you cannot amputate. Sever one, another takes its place,
and you mourn.
Freefall into martyrdom, a bronze-skinned youth slips into the
crowd, pulls the pin. He and destiny embrace, together mourn.
Grenades are colorblind. A woman falls, spilling ebony hair
beside the blond in camouflage. Death’s doorman gives chase. All
Even hell capitulates to sudden downpour. Cloudburst sweeps across
the hardpan, cracks its bloodstained carapace. Hear God mourn.
Up through scattered motes, a daughter reaches for an album. She
climbs into a rocking chair to search for Daddy’s face, and mourn.
Downstairs, a widow splinters on the bed, drops her head into his
silhouette, etched in linen on the pillowcase, to mourn.
Alone, the world is ugly in black. When final night descends
to blanket memory, drops its shroud of tattered lace, who will
About war, creating vivid images
of severed limbs, crusting body fluids
and restless final sleep, using nothing
more than a few well-crafted words.
Easy enough to jab philosophically
from the comfort of a warm winter
hearth or an air-conditioned summer.
But what can a sequestered writer know
of frontline realities—blistering
marches under relentless sand-choked
skies, where you’d better drink
your weight in water every day or die
from dehydration? Flipside—teeth-
cracking nights, too frigid for action,
bored out of your mind as you try
to stay warm in front of a makeshift fire.
How can any distant observer know
of traversing rock-rutted trails,
hyperaware that your camouflage comes
with a built-in bull’s-eye; or of sleeping
with one ear listening for incoming
peril; or of the way fear clogs your
pores every time you climb inside
a Humvee and head out for a drive?
You can see these things in movies.
But you can’t understand the way
they gnaw your heart and corrode
your mind, unless you’ve been a soldier
outside the wire in a country where
no one native is really your friend,
and anyone might be your enemy.
You don’t know till you’re ducking
bullets. The only person you dare rely
on is the buddy who looks a lot like
you—too young for this, leaking bravado,
and wearing the same uniform.
Even people who love soldiers—
people like me—can only know these
things tangentially, and not so much
because of what our beloveds tell us
as what they’ll never be able to.
Me about falling in love
with a guy in the military,
I’d tell you to about-face
and double-time toward
a decent, sensible civilian.
Someone with a fat bank
account and solid future,
built on dreams entirely
his own. I’d advise you
to detour widely around
any man who prefers fatigues
to a well-worn pair of jeans;
whose romantic getaways
are defined by three-day
leaves; who, at age twenty-
six has drunk more liquor
than most people manage
in a lifetime. He and his
fellow grunts would claim
it’s just for fun. A way to let
their hair down, if they had
much hair to speak of. But
those they leave behind,
devoted shadows, understand
that each booze-soaked
night is a short-lived
retrieve from uncertain
yesterdays. Service. Sacrifice.
The problem with that being,
everyone attached to those
soldiers must sacrifice, too.
So, as some Afghani warlord
might say, put that in your
pipe and smoke it. Okay, that
was actually my grandpa’s saying.
But it works, and what I mean
is, think long and hard before
offering your heart to someone
who can only accept it part-time.
The last thing Ashley ever expected was to end up a military wife. But Cole doesn’t match her stereotype of the aggressive Marine. He’s passionate and romantic, and their relationship evolves into a deeply felt, sexually charged love affair that survives four deployments. Cole desperately wants Ashley to marry him, but when she meets another man, a college professor, she begins to see what life might be like outside the shadow of war.
Written in Ellen Hopkins’s stunning poetic verse style, Collateral captures the hearts of the soldiers on the battlefield and the minds of their friends, family, and lovers who also sacrifice their lives and happiness for their country at war. Is the collateral damage worth the fight?
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
Ashley Patterson, a graduate student and poet, never expected to become a military wife. But she and her best friend, Darian, fall for soldiers, both on separate paths to war. Darian and Spencer marry right away, for better or for worse, but Ashley and Cole choose to take it slower. Five years and four deployments later, Ashley is still passionately connected to Cole—her poetic, sensitive Marine. But as she looks back on the history of their relationship, she realizes that he has changed—the fear and tedium of war are starting to take a toll. Ashley’s doubts grow as Cole rises in the ranks, and she finds herself drawn to her poetry professor, Jonah, a laid-back surfer who encourages her to follow her dreams and never settle for anyone else’s ambitions. As Cole’s suppressed fury comes to the surface, Ashley must find the courage to fight her own battles.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss what it was like to read Collateral, a novel in verse. How long did it take you adapt to this narrative form? Wh see more