Casualties

1.

Everything has to be lined up

exactly in its place, no deviation allowed

even the minutest deviation is obnoxious,

unacceptable, you know what I mean

utterly in line, like soldiers

 

People aren’t lined up, most people

go off in obscene angles, they’re careless

don’t give a shit about rules or order,

anything’s good enough for them

that’s why I hate people

they live their lives as if there is no

master plan, that’s why there are wars

and different religions and languages

and flags and things, you know what I mean,

untidy

 

I know what you’re thinking but you’re wrong,

dead wrong.  Look at them, raping the planet

hardly any ozone left, everywhere full of

fumes and pollution, all kinds of dogshit

all over the place.  Nobody picks up dogshit

these days.  What about the weather; either

floods or drought, fuck the planet, go on

drive your smoke belching vehicles all over it

so you see I’m not so fucking crazy, right? Exactly

 

No deviation – otherwise we’re all bound for

extinction.  You know why I hate them?

Nobody understands, they’re deaf, all deaf

every last one of those motherfuckers

 

You know why I’m running away?

There was this Nam girl, young like a rosebud,

like some furry young animal, timid fawn eyes,

she was the only one, I swear, she touched me

in places I didn’t know I had - the only one

I could have learned not to hate

 

But one day I saw her move

just a fraction, a millimeter out of line,

you wouldn’t notice it even, but I saw it,

saw through her.  She wasn’t lined up, she was

one of them.  I swear I could have killed her

on the spot, that’s what you are thinking, isn’t it?

 

But I left her, came here instead to be

on my own.  If I’m the only lined up person

in the world, I’ll stay on my own, forever

 

2.

Punctually as always we arrive

every second Tuesday at ten thirty

we descend from our battered Mercury

bottle of cordial and

smiling ham sandwiches

packed into brown paper bags

next to the photographs

of the family, magazines

cheap clean underwear

 

He is not on the picnic littered grass

not in the stained stairwell

smelling of urine and cracked paint

where the same empty eyed combatant stands

eternally masturbating in the corridor,

not in the deserted dining room

a few old slices of bread still on the peeling table

not in the TV room

where a single spectator stares

vacantly at a flickering screen

 

We find him in a tiny rancid room

two metal beds and his wheelchair

everything smelling of forgotten yesterdays,

our forced smiles unreturned

he stares through us shamefully

tears run dirty streams down his cheeks

reliving shells and shrapnel, blood and gore

he does not recognize us

 

We wheel him out to the grass

open the bags, the bottles, the photographs

he ignores them all

tears river from him dimly

seeing again his only movie

the battlefield

him, limbs smashed, stumbling

weapon torn from his grasp

jammed useless in the mud

 

The hour over we wheel him back

don’t look at each other in the car

 

 

3.

The catheter is extracted

by means of a syringe

inserted into the rubber tube

which empties the liquid from the balloon

trapping it inside the bladder

enabling removal via the urethra

 

Like a skinned eel or dead fish

 

And how she had cried and remembered,

how he was before he was injured

in the war and sent back home

a relic, something to be laughed at

 

Or pitied, the subject of public house

humor, lying there the whole time trying to preserve

his dignity, remembering old times

when after her day shift at the hospital

 

They had gone dancing

 

Holding each other as close as bark

around a tree; now she was only needed

by all those old men in the ward

with their prostate and bladder problems

 

She felt cold and full of emptiness

tried to reach out to him in the bed

past the steady rhythm of his breathing

 

When he did not move

she hunched her back

placed her palms between her thighs

then tried to sleep

but no amount of comfort under blankets

 

could warm her up

 

4.

linoleum cutout soldiers

newspaper soldiers, folded into triangles,

rectangles with exhaust pipe arms, legs, marching,

marching into valleys, across borders

drums beating tattoos, marching, a rhythmic

cranking of un-oiled hinges, left right, left right,

marching, uniforms camouflaged with disjointed

slogans, marching, blind, stern faces

 

set in resolution, fear, smoke, shrapnel

blades whirling overhead, marching

marching, drums beating, Sousa,

Shostakovich, twisted twitching cavalry

chunks of bent and burning iron, Guernica,

marching, marching

 

tin soldiers, a child lies on a carpet

arranging riflemen, platoons, tanks, squadrons

mouthing military music, bang he says, bang

bang, soldiers fall, topple, bang, some continue

marching across the carpet

 

into his head, his dreams, fatherless,

shivering into marching dreams,

mother arranging flowers in a jam jar

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© Johnmichael Simon

2010

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