Again the night falls. Here is where I hide from the soulless cold. A small lamp lights the corner where I sit. There’s the sound again—a junk-sick headache thumping and ringing and generally raising hell inside my skull.
I bend forward in the chair and lay my head on the kitchen table, waiting for the drugs to kick in. When it happens, the fog clears and some of the bad things disappear. Now, for a while, I can make up any kind of dream that suits me—give life to the fantasy images stored in a spot just behind my eyes—cover the shit before the shit covers me.
I sit up, tilt my head back, and stare up at the peeling yellow paint on the ceiling. I can feel the sweat running down from my hairline. I am sinking and rising in slow, dark circles. My breathing is slowing down, and the nausea is beginning to ease off. I let myself sink like a rock to the bottom of an abyss where no one can reach me.
Feeling a little dizzy, I turn my eyes back toward the table and reach for a pack of cigarettes with my right hand—a right hand that is not there. More than fifty years without a right arm, and the reflex is still hanging on.
In the mist-filled darkness, birds cry like human beings alerting the Viet Cong to our every move. The birds are like ghosts that refuse to depart this world. Above ground, threats come from every direction. Any time I am moving along a jungle trail, I can feel the tunnels below tugging at the soles of my boots. The only place that I feel safe is crawling around VC tunnels with a .45 and a flashlight. Inside the dark, I am able to lose the sense of where I am—my underground sanctuary.
I can still feel the pressure of the tripwire just above my right boot. The sudden surprise of the explosion—a mouthful of bone and dirt—a ragged, wet hole just under my left eye—trying to scream for a medic, or maybe my mother. But the thing that is forever fixed in my brain is the shock of someone dropping my severed right arm onto my chest—the exact weight of reality.
Two months after being discharged from the VA hospital my wife says she’s leaving me. Her explanation is simple and cold: “I want a man with all of his body parts.”
DB Cox is a Marine Corps veteran and blues musician/writer from South Carolina. His poems have been published extensively in the small press, in the US and abroad. He has published five books of poetry: Passing For Blue, Lowdown, Ordinary Sorrows, Night Watch, and Empty Frames. DB recommends the Best Friends Animal Society.