I Sometimes Write about the Helicopter on Fire When I Was in the Military
as if there were no people inside.
As if there are no people anywhere.
As if there were ghosts on fire.
As if the ghosts were comfortable with being on fire.
As if my dreams have not been on fire.
As if the PTSD counseling waiting room has never been on fire.
As if it matters knowing that the word fire etymologically stems from the Old English for fire.
As if all of the fire extinguisher training I have done on my current job could put out my past.
As if I have a past.
As if the faces of the ghosts who have been incinerated would resemble the faces of those with easy lives.
As if the hard ghosts would set fire to my PTSD.
As if the end of the word fire were more dramatic than a vowel.
As if Quyen, my best friend from Can Tho, could not differentiate between the pronunciation of valve vs. vowel.
As if the Vietnam War never happened.
As if the Gulf War never happened.
As if the Civil War weren’t happening right now.
As if the extinguishing of dreams never happened.
As if the hell of incarceration would not enter into this poem.
As if the unemployment rates of veterans reached an all-time low of zero.
As if the incantations of the dead would not lead to more incantations of the dead.
As if it matters to realize nostalgia and nausea are part of the seduction of comorbidity.
As if a newborn could emerge from the flames.
As if there are too many veterans being published and having too much voice.
As if the explosion didn’t happen so close to Halloween.
As if the panic attacks weren’t recurring.
As if the ability to imagine a rose in my mind could replace everything.
As if you read this poem and could feel the heat that’s in me forever.
Sonnet 5: Trauma
It’s important to keep the blood inside you.
I’m talking about the shame of blood. In the military,
they warned us that UXOs could turn us into mist,
warning that there are boiling points to everything.
When I teach CPR, I tell the class that the video
contains a lot of blood, but you have to watch
the blood to learn how to stop the blood. & it’s easy.
You grab an arm. You slap on the gauze, the dressing.
You tell the father to stop screaming. You wrap
an umbilical cord around the blood. You tell them
that everyone trips into nail guns, into hammer guns,
into chain saws and table saws and see-saws. We all
are eager for nudity, for trauma shears. I’ve ruined
everything I’ve ever touched.
Graveyard Shift, Break, Watching the Deer Just Feet from Me
I tell him that my ancestors were reindeer herders.
He stops just once, looks at me. Then he continues
along the fence. The night is clean, as if the sky
has just showered. A moment later, his children
emerge—two fawn. They actually tiptoe, a sort
of gentleness with their hooves, even though they
see me. I whisper to them: To the Sámi, you are holy.
I whisper that I tiptoe too, worried that I will not live
for very much longer. They disappear. I wait.
The mother emerges, a doe. She is as peaceful
as a monk, even with her furnace-glowing eyes.