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"Shielded", a poem by Clarence Bonner.

 1981 photo of Camp Hill, Alabama sourced from Georgia State University Archives.

1981 photo of Camp Hill, Alabama sourced from Georgia State University Archives.

Shielded

You stumble and slide down the dark roadside bank
Wet, in rubber boots
Heavy turnout gear and helmet deflecting warm rain,
The sparks from the saw,
The flying metal from the hydraulic jaws

You moved here not long ago

Latex gloves shield you from the blood.

You shield the firemen up on the road--
The ones who babysat them,
The godmother to them,
The Fire Chief who drove their school bus
--From their distant stare,
The trickle of blood from a sheared aorta
That killed them despite their seat belt
When they hit the oak
--From their vacant eyes and brain protruding
From the back of an elongated skull.

Did they soil those pants six inches before impact,
Or when their brain stem switched off?

Yes, they are shielded, the ones who knew them.
Yet they haunt, whether you admit it or you don’t,
To yourself or to your brother and sister firemen.

You help the funeral home man lift them out,
Heavier now that the light has left them
And you never forget the sound and the feel
Of a body bag zipper.


We are proud to share this poem by AWC Historian and Board Member Clarence Bonner, who serves as a volunteer firefighter in the small town of Camp Hill. Like many small Alabama towns, the Fire Department runs entirely on grants and donations.

This year, the town of Camp Hill was only able to cover the cost of utilities and insurance for its fire department. If you would like to help sustain or support these men and their families, donations are deeply appreciated. They can be mailed to:

Camp Hill Volunteer Fire Department
PO Box 88
Camp Hill, AL 36850


Learn more about two long-serving Camp Hill firefighters that just retired last month.

Clarence (Dean) Bonner was born and raised in rural Georgia but can claim naturalized citizenship in Tallapoosa County, Alabama and Virginia Beach, Virginia as a retired Coast Guard veteran.

Bonner left the tarpaper shacks of Appalachia for a long military career, rising through the enlisted and officer ranks. Joining the Service in 1981 was his ticket out of a cotton mill that still had a company store when it closed in 2006.  He was a skilled Morse telegrapher and a calming voice during many search and rescue cases. He left a town of 300 souls to travel the world--living in Boston, New Orleans, DC, and even on the island of Guam for a couple of years. He finished his career as an intelligence analyst.

Dean was a weekly columnist for The Dadeville Record before he began work as a freelance writer for Lake Magazine and Lake Martin Living Magazine. His favorite assignment was exploring the Hog Mountain gold mine where his grandfather and great-grandfather worked.

Dean is a skilled Studebaker car mechanic, tube radio repairman, volunteer firefighter, town councilman, and a weekend gold prospector.  His poetry is published in two collections called The Breaking and A Stormy Beginning, by Scars Publications. He was a contributing editor for Lisa Ditchkoff's book The Girl with Caterpillar Eyebrows, about educating herself while she grew up in hiding from her father, an associate of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger.  

Dean’s memoir Seeking Asylum was a nonfiction winner in Alabama’s largest literary competition (AlaLitCom) in 2013, competing against writers nationwide.

His upcoming projects include recording two audio albums of his original humor, finishing a children’s book, and writing a new compilation of short stories.  Dean’s memoir collection I Talk Slower Than I Think, along with several later stories, are under development by Council Tree Productions as a television series with a working title Tar Nation.

Dean serves as a board member (Historian) of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, the nation’s oldest writers’ organization.  Bonner discovered author Rick Bragg’s books after he completed his own book, but easily identifies with the similar life experiences in Bragg’s work.  His partner in crime Patricia, a multi-talented artist, shares these same interests. Together, they travel and spend time at homes in Alabama and Virginia.

 Clarence in Camp Hill at an earlier time.

Clarence in Camp Hill at an earlier time.

Alina Stefanescu