"War stories" - Sharon D. McCoy

"War stories" - Sharon D. McCoy

“The Kid’s War,” he wanted to call it. I don’t think he ever read
Vonnegut’s Children’s Crusade. He just saw it that way, too. 
Maybe that’s the way they all are. Stories to craft a
narrative box for surreal horror that cannot be contained. 
Stories to push back the nightmares haunting years,
lifetimes, never able to grow up, grow past
get away, be unafraid, always taken back in the
reaches of the night. Brotherhood we listeners can glimpse
only in the foggy breath of the stories.
He saw in surprise on the airfield one day, a face he knew
A boy from his hometown, his high school. They spoke
Excitedly, made plans for coffee and conversation when the planes
Returned. Waving jauntily, they climbed into their birds, patting the painted
Ladies’ butts for luck – See you on the ground, babe.
Strange serendipity it seemed, their planes next to each other in aerial
Formation. Looking across the cold cacophony of sky, taking comfort in the
Familiar face he knew was in that turret, watching at the very moment flak
Shattered it, bursting light and smoke. On the ground again he rushed to
Help. They handed him a hose and said,“Find the dogtags for his folks, if you can.”
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that?  Legs
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold feel of the hose, burning even altitude-numbed fingers,
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
I wake with night sweats – stiff silent gaping terror – once again lost behind
Enemy lines.  We were reported killed in action, I later learned.  But really just lost – 
Short on rations, ammunition, fuel for the last tank, protective shell we cannot lose
Tired, scared, searching, boots leaking, hushing wounded moaning softly inside—
Must keep them quiet, safe. Finding what we did not want to find – oh, god, why us?
Soldiers, surrendering.  Surrendering, oh, god, to us.  They outnumber us,
Could take us, but they lay down their arms, tired of war.  Bastards. 
We are, too.  Not enough food for us, let alone them.  Not enough guards to watch.
Not safe to let them go. My choice. No choice.  Rivers of blood undammed – my own damned
Purple heart. No choice. My choice. Even now, how hard to see even their children as human.
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that?  Even wounded legs
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold feel of the unspeakable choice unspoken except in nightmare
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
Sobbing on the cold bathroom floor, rocking, lost in my own vomit – Happy New Year!
A gentle touch, a quiet voice. No – cannot trust – but warm arms break through
Barriers of memory.  Our last day, shipping out, going home at last. The little boy
Shyly offering the “kind American soldier” a sandwich.  I watched him take it,
My scowl washed away as he ruffled the boy’s hair, thinking of his own son.
Little boy – oh god, so little – scampering off with that shy smile.  My buddy,
My brother, raised the sandwich to his lips, hungry for so much more than food, never
Dreaming of the live explosive lodged between the bread.  Never close my eyes without seeing –
Not him, but them. I tried, but I failed, oh, god, I failed. Their son, clutching her waist below
Her hollow eyes. In that moment I knew I’d lost the race with the black-bordered telegram.
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that?  Even wounded must
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold feel of the failed mission that no alcohol or drugs could drown
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
Silent screams pierce my dreams. Ears shattered and screaming, I bolt upright,
Reaching for the needle, seeing her there sleeping, and I know she will leave me.
But the needle is my only hope for silence.  Intel told us it was a Viet Cong stronghold. 
We hammered it, hammered it with shells. Shells. Hit the surrounding jungle with napalm. 
Guns at the ready, tense, knowing this could be our last, going in. Not even birds
Disturbed the burn. We searched, but nothing.  No bodies, no weapons, nothing left.
Off to the side, finally, I saw, the blasted, crumbling remains of a wall. My trigger finger tight
I rounded the rubble – a temple wall, I could see, I do not know why. Huddled behind, torn,
Fragmented bodies of old women and children – children, oh god, mouths gaping silent screams
Only heroin and alcohol can drown, even now.  I reach for the needle, knowing she will leave me.
Irrevocable and irremovable, forever a part of who you are.
I mean, can you ever really get beyond that? Even wounded must
keep moving, life keeps going, but the image must
be imprinted in more than memory in more than nightmare.
New joys, new life, new loves, new mundane realities
piling one after the other making marking a lifetime,
but the cold silent screams of those we cannot hear
survivor’s guilt and unanswered questions, looking
for meaning, a reason to keep this story going, wondering why
We tell stories to children. Stories to ourselves who used to be children and somehow
Never stop. Stories to craft a narrative box for surreal horror that cannot be contained. 
Stories to push back the nightmares that haunt years, lifetimes,
Never able to grow up, grow past, get away, be unafraid,
Always taken back in the reaches of the night. Lost childhood.
A brotherhood we listeners can glimpse only in the foggy breath of the stories.

No comments: