When one sprays a crowded college bar with bullets, triggered
not by a thunderous crash, a scent, a blinding flash but an echo
or the thrill of steel in hand, of kids cowering—or one bruised
soul plows his vehicle into pedestrians, mistaking brown faces
for foes, gas pedal plunging as hurried metal shrugs
into flesh—his brothers shoulder the weight of the wounded.
When media smear headlines about men so tightly wound,
pending the snap, tripwire psychotics, trigger-
fingers itching to unload fury on those closest, the well shrug
into dark closets of denial; they withdraw into isolation, echoes
of former selves. Dual stigma of stoic hero, of broken soldier facing
a future damaged or war-torn sinks deep bruises.
If one lashes out in sleep, ambushed by the past, bruising
his fists on the wall or (as combat dreams pry open a wound,
override the sleeping body’s paralysis) bruising his wife’s face
when she aims to calm him—or if therapy trips a trigger
of rage present long before muddy boots hit the ground, an echo
of juvenile angst, so one arms himself with apathy and a rifle, shrugs
back into the clinic under the guise of seeking treatment, a shrug
when asked why, when PTSD is offered as cause—a bruise,
a mass metastasizes, seizes the rest. Like shrapnel, shame echoes,
scatters; a stain his brothers can’t evade; an angry, unhealed wound.
And onlookers see a time bomb ticking, a fuse compressing, a trigger
anticipating the pull: A daunting battle for even the toughest to face.
News coverage defers—when one erases his relatives from the face
of the planet before torching the house—to the stress of combat, shrugs
at an inevitable tendency toward violence, the sad fate of a triggered
warrior, his family caught in the crossfire. Then another one bruises
his temple with the barrel of his service weapon but recoils, unwound
by his fear of perpetuating the stereotype, refusing to be an echo.
One or every one reeks of smoke, an explosion awaiting its echo.
We foresee the flash, already hearing the hiss, the fuse. We won’t face
fact when spirits, maybe slackened, are not severed by invisible wounds.
Most who suffer do in silence, lock the guns away when shadows shrug
close. Too often, it’s not warfare that dwells or swells like a bruise,
but the gap between worlds we can’t grasp that releases the trigger.
With stone faces and mouths clamped shut, the well and wounded shrug
against the locked door, the panic of echoing buried like a bruise,
one that pulses deep and always, maybe keeps one from squeezing the trigger.
The note taped to the door
says, “Don’t come in;
just call the police.”
Of course he goes inside.
Don’t come in—
ever demanding, dead but still
in control; his boy breaks inside,
always the disobedient son.
Demeaned and dead, dad still
naked in the tub, clear plastic
overhead. The disobedient son
tears the suffocating hood away.
Peaked in the tub, plastic cleared
from expired airways, lips parted
to swig suffocation. Torn away
are long denied amends.
Lips parted, exasperated, the son
slumps onto tile. Resentments
he’d long anticipated they’d mend
distend in a dry tub.
Swallowing a bullet—
like swigging sloppy scotch—
would add to the mess
already bestowed on his son.
He sips a fine scotch of contrition
to numb final words of a despondent
son and stows written regrets
with his will before stripping to skin.
Overheard, the words of a disappointed
son break something inside the old man.
Before losing will, he slips plastic to skin,
knots a bow at his throat and waits.
Something inside bursts without breath.
Demoralized, he pictures his son before
he claws at the bow at his throat and wilts.
His boy will be better off.
The picture of failure, deplored by his son,
he’d die the drinking, domineering dad
despite years of sobriety. His boy better off
outside, dialing someone else
Amy L. Eggert is a writer, a teacher, and a mom. She is the author of Scattershot: Collected Fictions (Lit Fest Press 2015), a hybrid collection that re-envisions the trauma narrative. Additional recent publications can be found in Del Sol Review, Beliveau Review, Midway Journal, Verse of Silence, Cardinal Sins, and Bluffs Literary Magazine. Eggert teaches for Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois.