Poetic Voices Winner

What bothers me

is the sudden waking at night like when cats scream under the window
since you got a gun, gut full of 9/11, too eager to see the world, trading baggy jeans for starched camouflage and gleaming gold buttons, brave and willing, my warrior son.
Days of dirty sand, humvees, booming thunder bombs all night, your life so hot your rubber souls stick to the tarred rooftops you guard. I think I am in hell sometimes.

Home now, beacon of lonely yellow light creeping out from under your door,
you pace the floor creaking, faint smells of whiskey, weed,
your room a dark inner sanctum, heroes and childhood dreams in drawers,
your nerves frayed electric cords.
Boulder on my chest, can’t breathe, the salty slimy serpent in my belly gnawing.

Now your door opens, soft thud-thud down carpeted stairs, run running in dark silence, images burned inside your eyelids, maybe sweat will wash them away.
Your friend Cooper in your arms, Purple Heart empty now, red blood turned black oil.
His eyes were so empty, you say, arms holding friend-fiber-dead muscle,
the tattoo you gave him barely healed.
Flashes fire, crushing metal, burning flesh,
you pick up pieces of LeBlanc and Kurt,
They say young soldiers cry out for their mothers, not God, when dying.

Yellow satin ribbons, tattered spiders’ homes, scraping against rough bark,
time is my enemy now, the taste of salt again and again. It was pretty bad.
Wet bullets pepper the tile bathroom floor, my belly shredded, cold serpent
uncoils slithering through salty lips and licks my swollen eyes, venom tongue stinging.

Now doors open soft thud-thud up the stairs, pores sweating out Cooper, Le Blanc, Kurt, shower hissing, buddies’ bodies blown apart souls in half, horror movie over and over.
Now quiet dark comes, bed creaks, until your dreams come again.
I’ll be ok, but I read what you wrote, cinching up my flak jacket before entering,
afraid to know. Serpent flicks its slimy tail but I swallow it down.
Finally a breath, heavy boulder, serpent still, a short respite from the constant feeding.
You say, Why them, not me?

Laura Dietrich-Smith