I live in Santa Cruz County, California, with my wife. I don't fish but like the look of a wet line rising from the water, and don't hunt but like doing figure eights in fields to flush out birds.
My First Semester on the GI Bill
I keep thinking of finding a safe place-safe place-safe place.
Hard when inside your head is hazardous.
I’m okay with violence, the swift turn I make
when a tender touch on my shoulder from behind makes me shudder.
I’m fed all this re- stuff: re-union, re-integration, re-knit, re-store,
the act of accumulating stuff more than a sixty-four pound backpack,
but re-call’s what I know and dread,
more months of someone making me get up out of bed.
I haven’t seen a sunrise since I re-turned.
Students see me as mis-fit, un-desirable, dis-abled, un-hinged, a danger
to myself and others even leaning on a pile of books
in a campus library waiting for something to stick, to tick,
to up-tick, re-tick, time-tick, tic-toc, clock-detonate.
Friends worry when I drink de-caf that I will stay depressed,
Friends worry when I drink half-half that I will be half-crazy.
Friends worry when I drink whole-caf that I’ll go entirely off.
Friends take me to forests for natural frond and flora-healing.
Friends take me to lakes and the ocean for whatever the opposite
of what water torture I might have been involved with
but my arid tongue burned in the desert cannot speak of.
Friends take me to open ranges in Utah, in some awkward hope
that God-mountain will speak from some red mesa.
Friends tell me that I’m emotionally vulnerable, that I’m not vulnerable to beauty,
that I’m overly vulnerable to influences, television, movies
and the internet like the Spanish influenza to my soul.
Friends tell me to re-lax, like I was lax and need to re-member it,
un-member it, dis-member it, take the fixed digit of my spine and slump.
Friends tell me to stretch, to re-capture the space around my body,
beyond my body, to un-wind, that I’m too fetal, too re-wound.
Wound, like a coil. Wound, like an open sore.
Sometimes when I hear a baby crying from a house I pass I cry, too.
Sometimes when I hear a baby crying from a house I pass I cry
because my re-action is to knock in the door and make her parents beg
for their lives, beg for life, anyone’s life, my life.
Sometimes when I hear a baby crying from a house I pass I cry—
I’m the best and the brightest, I’m the reverted warrior, I should be wanted,
I’m wet, I’m wordless, I’m hungry, my bones are soft, I ache to be held.
all these decades passed
waking in fear of deployment
still tapping my boots
in the small puddle of rain
expecting it to run,
watching it quiver
I hide in my Viet Nam-era fatigue jacket under the blanket of fog
that has draped itself over the tarmac of the Cessna-sized country airport
and return again to the front line, the young soldiers with the same face
with the same haircut with the same bewildered look I recognize
from watching steers in a vast cha-cha line waiting for the chute to open
at the slaughterhouse, waiting for the order, bristly mustaches
softened by the mist, pearls hanging with universal regret.
I want to hide the men, a magician who taps his ruby-red rifle butt
three times on the floor and has a balloon take them up
and out over Kansas, anywhere but here. I want to lose them
in crowds and parades where camouflage is dabs of color
and not spots on uniforms, I want to call them any name but brothers,
banded by bravery and grief, fear and incomprehension,
I want to push them away, pull the ripcord of shared history,
let them float from this remembrance, retrieve their lost faces,
become the sons of their mothers and fathers again,
I want their unique jaws and iris to appear, I want them to be strangers,
a bland sunshine distinguishing their remarkable features.
The TI would come and drop a quarter
on the bed and you would hope the coin
would hop like a tickled frog,
that he’d snatch that platter
belt-high or better,
no tug or tuck required,
blanket pulled taut
like your future,
a flag folded at a funeral.
©2016 Jeff Burt