Karen Douglass

“Vaseline and a plastic ID card might seal
a small sucking chest wound and keep a lung
from collapsing. Don’t lock your knees at attention
or you’ll faint in this heat. Keep your hair off
your collar, your cap on straight, and wear
the uniform of the day. Salute when you are outdoors.”

We learned to run and crawl an obstacle course,
we marched, we pretended to rescue victims
of a simulated plane crash, where the blood
was made up and our clumsy efforts did no harm.
Pounding tent stakes was as mean as we got;
finding our way in the Alabama dark scared us.
A scarce commodity, we were not expendable,
and by the last evening we slow danced
to “Crying Time,” sad to be dispersed.

We believed that wars could end, not
lumber across our lives like elephants
holding each other’s tail, an impenetrable
line of horror. Flesh bleeds in ways
we had not planned for, and some of us
were never made for war.