Carissa Anne Lee
Five Stages
Oil Pastel

Oh, fickle memory, how it deceives!
A sieve to the mundane, location
of the car keys, wallet, the route he took to work
each day. Erases the most crucial, too,
the infant’s scent beneath her dark curls tumbling
from a pink barrette, Mom’s birthday noted
on the calendar but passed without a call,
and how he once could lower his guard for his
devoted wife. And yet, unwanted clinging
memories flash, explosions ring his bell
and knock him back, the smell of tense anticipation
in the dark, the road bump culminating in a blast,
the scorched remains of comrades in the dirt.

Concentration, too, betrays; in quiet
conversation he’s intact, no cracks
he can’t conceal and in those moments he’s
reminded that he used to trust himself.
But his thoughts flit and flee when he attempts
to plan his day, schedules and appointments
jumbled, problems and anxiety magnified
by cruel awareness of his lapses.

He is so often weary, but dreads arrival
of the dark knowing he will toss awake,
when finally he drifts comes face to face
with an innocent he may have mistakenly
gunned down, startles palpitating at the sound
of his own child on the stair.

He was once known for chivalry and humor,
so out of character to snap, but senses prickle
raw with trivial frustrations, lines and traffic,
bills to pay, misunderstandings with those
who’ve never seen the world he’s seen, and cannot
comprehend. Suddenly he dives for cover
at the burst of a balloon, and partygoers
stare and wonder. It’s clear the only place
he’d fit and be at home is in a war.

His pre-enlistment self is gone; life soldiers on
in endless change. Is it a sheared
and unsynapsing brain jostled in the hard
confines of its own skull with the force of
each explosion that has changed him so?
Or the ricochet of his own thoughts colliding
in his effort to force sense into the horror
that is now within?

To heal will be to find
a web of gentle new connections
within the scrambled trauma
of his brain and mind.

He wears his veteran’s cap-of-pride
upon his head of unseen wounds.
But even love is slippery now.