"1967: Brooke Army Medical Center" | Poetry Contest | Indy Week

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"1967: Brooke Army Medical Center"

Fourth place


Wagner and chopper blades
in the apocalypse by Coppola--
the Second Coming and it ain't Jesus.
In another version, Janis Joplin throws back
a long swallow of Southern Comfort and
hums the chorus of Bobby McGee--
while round-eyed women move,
as if underwater,
in the dreams of leftover boys.

Around the dressing cart,
a quartet of the wounded, silly and raucous with relief--
the dirt of Southeast Asia still between their toes.
sings along with Grace Slick:
Don't you want somebody to love?
The nurse, perfume in the hem of her uniform and
assigned to dressings for the duration,
tears tape and shifts packages of sterile gauze.

Flying overhead, chopper pilots ride manhole covers--
jury-rigged beneath them, as
armor for the underbelly of the bird and
drop boys from Nebraska and the neighborhood into
the story-high poinsettias of San Antonio.

who could have believed it--

Near the quadrangle,
in the orthopedic and amputee wards,
a wound in every bed.
Those who can--
race wheelchairs down the hospital ramps at speeds
no longer possible on foot and hitch
rides downtown in their blue convalescent pajamas where
in bars decorated with Christmas lights in March,
older men, with limbs still attached,
talk Texas and buy them drinks,
until the MPs pick them up by the scruff of their necks, like
so many half-drowned kittens and
bring them back to the ward.

Lieutenant, are these yours?

Those who cannot--
eat pizza from the wagon that
moves through the ward like the seasons and
in that claustrophobic space stockpile pain
pills for a boy from Louisiana
who will need them.

From beds, strung with looping and forever aluminum chains of the
flip tops of empty beer cans,
other patients, lined up like children in a pew on Sunday morning,
negotiate the business of love with whores--
and flirt with nurses--
the women
who work the floor in metered waves.

Hey lieutenant, want to feel my new leg?

A boy from Nebraska--
really, they were just boys--
after two tours as a medic,
without pleasure in the ramp races or the women,
tries to hurl himself through the 4th floor window.
He cannot see the bars.
The wardmaster, a top sergeant and a middleweight from Chicago,
carries the boy away.

A 70-year-old Red Cross volunteer--
near that same window and slowed by the memory--
moves like the young women in their dreams.
She holds a clutch of mail for bedside delivery in one hand and
offers of matrimony in the other--
her would-be-lovers, boys the age of her grandchildren--
And later that day, the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl and
Silver Stars and Purple Hearts
out of their red plush boxes,
whirl between the orthopedic-framed beds
like chopper blades or
comets, bright and brief.

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