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Friday, November 11, 2022


by Laura Rodley

In the knuckle of the nightmare what does he see?
He swivels the joint around, sees faces
of children, no longer innocent, their faces blank,
then blown up. It is not that he had to bury any;
that was not his job. Instead, he was flown
above the rice paddies where the women worked,
their wide hats resembling shiitake mushrooms
when seen from the sky, their tiny hoes
hoeing the fields, gathering the grain,
letting the water out, sprayed with napalm
and agent orange; they all ate it, its perfume
a pollen of poison. He was up in a helicopter,
delivering paychecks, manna from
the government. What is easy to ignore
when survival demands it comes back to stare
you in the face. The children’s faces below,
his fellow soldiers, a flip of propeller blade
and they are gone, but not now, not fifty-five
years later, a whole other lifetime. He still carries
butterscotch lifesavers in his pockets
that he handed out to the children that came begging;
they saw him as Santa Claus, one of his many
camouflaged elves. He can’t turn time back
but his nightmares do it for him, every night
he reenters the war zone he left behind,
taught as a man from birth not to have feelings,
then returning from duty, not to have feelings,
with no one buying him a drink at the bar
or asking him to speak at the high school,
as the World War II vets were so honored. It’s a long
way back, to the fields of yellow pollen that was not
the dust of Ailanthus trees, a long way back to the drugs
that were offered to make you forget, to the beers, to women offered,
to the honor you held tight to your chest.
He knew all the lyrics to The Doors, the Beatles,
Dion and the Belmonts; where does that
get him now? He’s held tight in the fist
of his commanding officer suck it up, be a man.
He’s held tight in the fist of his own heart, squeezing the life out
of him and into him, regulating his every action,
his every breath. But the rhythm of the heart
is not the territory of nightmares, the nightmares
leave notches, catch his breath; he wanted a gentle life,
honor held tight in the fist that is his heart,
caught off balance, flailing, ceaselessly trying
to get into the groove, pay attention.
His life depends on it.

Laura Rodley, Pushcart Prize winner, is a quintuple Pushcart Prize nominee and quintuple Best of Net nominee. Latest books: Turn Left at Normal by Big Table Publishing, Counter Point by Prolific Press, and As You Write It Lucky Lucky 7, a collection of 11 writers' work.