I. The tick of the clock
roars the seconds
as you chatter 20,000 leagues away.
A pause. A quick breath.
A whispered, “I love you.”
 
I say nothing
as I settle the starchy cap
atop my head.
Holding the kerosene lamp aloft,
I step through the door
onto the gangplank,
toes curling from the wet and cold.
 
II. The ship heaves from the water,
like Ahab’s nemesis,
trailing frothy waves in its wake.
Sailors clamber on the top deck
slinging rope and words.
All the while the ferryboat waits,
jouncing in the obsidian brine,
its passengers tight-buttocked on their seats.
 
Finally, the would-be saviors
splatter onto the entryway,
detritus of the journey,
then trudge down, down, down
into the Heart of Darkness,
the entrails of the converted tanker
their home away from home.
Bunks all in a row, three high.
Davy Jones’s locker is full!
 
“This is not a drill!
This is not a drill!
Wounded incoming.
Man your stations!”
 
Order and chaos on rotation.
Sleep. Wake. Eat. Work.
Repeat.
Enemy. Comrade. Who’s who?
Care for all. Comfort all.
 
In the sea of brown faces,
Basam holds sway.
Soft brown eyes too old
for an eight-year-old face,
he was helo’d to the ship
with bilateral upper extremity fractures
and left iliac bone exposed.
A rocket-propelled grenade casualty
of his own people’s doing.
Innocent enemy,
he breaches khaki armor
and seeps beneath to the vulnerable,
to the place that is not supposed to exist.
I surrender, little brother.
 
III. At last! Homeward bound!
This floating metal cage now a
wraith who only visits on Halloween.
A pause. An indrawn breath.
No warning.
Basam is plucked from the unit.
His eye catches mine
as I peer through the porthole.
 
“Ens! Ens!” he beseeches,
confused and afraid;
I stand frozen at the door,
tethered to the heart monitor alarms
pinging behind me.
 
“Ens! Ens! Ens!”
My title echoes along the passageway
as he is wheeled to the flightdeck.
The kerosene lamp
falls from my grasp,
and shatters on the floor,
now nothing more than
broken glass and leaking oil.
 
IV. The tick of the clock is loud,
as laughter and music
waft through the window.
I unpack in Stygian silence,
the comforts of home
now unfamiliar and strange.
 
Insidious chlorine
plucks at the senses.
I pause.
 
Burnt bodies, writhing during dressing changes.
Slippery flesh as I scrub scrub scrub.
Blackened toes. Blackened nose.
Live corpses.
Marines. Army. Air Force.
Enemy POWs. Civilians.
Families. Children.
Basam.
 
V. I catch your eye
through the paned glass
as you recline by the pool,
the sun’s rays a halo on your head.
Do you love me still?

Can you love me now?

 

can i love me?

 

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