Killing a Gathering of Cells, Saving Angel
KILLING A GATHERING OF CELLS
A nightingale sits in darkness and sings to cheer
Its own solitude with sweet sounds.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I will show you pain today.
The universal gift.
The unwelcome sleuth entertained in slanted dark rooms,
With early mornings arranging themselves
Like dented toy soldier nightmares.
You will feel my word paintings crawl.
They will be stroked, emotional bullets
Zooming through your inquisitive shame,
Opening you up, spreading your imposed innocence—
Such raw desperate etchings,
Hidden under the thin disguise of creative outpourings.
They will burn you,
Embalm you to a fine dust.
So is the nature of my beast.
And the invisible gun will be raised,
Pointed to the path I walked during
My youth's trip into madness....
A child stood.
A nightingale with slender features
Holding tight to his father's water buffalo,
Extending yellow bags to me.
Forty-five in hand, my spasm finger slammed him,
Blew him into scarlet pumpkin meat,
My eyes turning into closed boxed coffins.
Swallowing a caged fear,
I tasted the pungent acid rings,
Observed as they formed silver halos
Around his open young crown.
I stowed that small child away.
No time to grieve.
It was him or it was me.
The bags dripped past his bubbling brain,
His last thoughts chirping at my feet.
Casing after brass casing I poured into him,
Slicing his baby heart into trembling silk umbilical cords.
And when I was rescued from this killing meal
They found me digging at the ground,
Eating his ancestor's rice,
Pulling it raw from its watery beginnings.
Stuffing buffalo dung into my ears,
I was dragged away, raising this Navy anchor
Out of fresh young entrails.
And I sang:
Ashes, ashes all fall down,
My paper thin and torn officer's voice whispering
To wilted marble Marines.
They showed me the surviving ten cent coke bottles,
A Da Nang child's last bargaining sale—
Blood fizz staining his sudden grave.
Laughing, I sipped at the remaining glass-torn earth.
And with wild fingers tweezing into my mouth,
They freed one hundred diamond shaped mistakes out.
Seven days later I stood, oozing chicken valor from my breasts.
And, listening from a Demerol haze,
I floated away, over long congratulatory speeches
On wings of a slender nightingale lifting me
Over a gathering of killed cells.
(Navy nurse's log. Da Nang, 23 December 1968)
The body next to me smells burnt,
Like a boiled egg overcooked.
I can't look into its eyes two feet beyond
The spinning pupils and the head is tipped opened,
A human pitcher, spilling, spilling such a ripe youth over me.
I was once an angel of all mercies
Attempting miracles in foreign mud.
And I prayed the devil's prayer:
Hell is here! Hell is here!
Get up all you blown children.
And my blood spat clots of black, youthful ooze,
Lifting me out and down, a fainted rubber dog tag.
I was fool enough to believe heroes died gracefully.
Now I feel like the village idiot, slammed against
The tin latrine, a flexible broken Barbie Doll,
Screaming into white light.
I slipped away, slipped away.
And if Jesus was to be kind that day,
He would have taken me upon His wings.
Shown me a measure of swift merciful motion.
But death laughed and sang:
Not now. You suffer to live, sweet saving angel.
And all I heard was what I saw:
Entrails twitching at my feet.
Arms shaking their final clawed good-byes in my lap.
Jungle boots filled with ankles and knees
Walking across my breasts.
And my sweat traveled inward, a wet sizzling burn.
How I shivered and snipped.
Snipped with silver scissors their green, red clothing away.
Oh, how the wealth of them poured over and out of me,
One day seventy two hours ago.
I was once a crisp blue ego walking within uniforms
Ironed for rapid inspections and long dry parades.
Now I am a fresh old wound damaged daily by invisible,
Imprinted bodies, crawling scars, which never
Stop their search for a final deep grave.
They refuse to understand their suckling tearing death.
And I push their ghostly limbs away.
See them wave.
Listen to their footsteps.
Stop their begging pleas to this saving angel.
Hear me cry: