The Surgeon’s Wife: A Letter (After Ezra Pound)


I had the long bangs and you would brush them to see my eyes.
You would come to the ranch to help your father.
You sat on the heads of the hogs, twisting their ears as your father cut them;
they screamed as if they were dying
but as soon as you let them go they would stop
as if your hands could hurt and heal with just a motion.
Our fathers drank coffee on the porch while we went out
beyond the chicken run to look for plums and get away from them a little while.
We got high among the plum trees.
“My Daddy gets the bestest pills,” you whispered and we giggled.
“I will be a doctor, for people,” you said.
“No more twisting ears for me,” you said and I saw my life. My whole life.

At eighteen I married you, the student doctor. The Army paid for everything
so now they had you for a while and I had to be content to share.
I smiled bravely. I could see my whole life. I desired what you desired.
I would not make you worry on my account. I would be the brave cliche.

When I was nineteen they deployed you to Iraq.
One full tour, often not a hundred yards from hell,
and I prayed and prayed and did not weep for there is a form for these things.
I stayed at home where Pa and I sat on the porch
and watched the weeping eastern sky.
Then you were home and joy was a whoosh and—poof—
gone again: Afghanistan.

This time you came home with the tour inside you, it never left you, ever.
I sat in the BOQ but you were gone to distant rivers,
you walked in bloodied rubble
even as you turned the burgers and drank untasted beers
and the hawks made a screaming, sorrowful noise overhead.
Your hands reached for them, gestured, but they did not stop their screaming.

You fought against this third deployment, but the machine won. It always wins.
Pa will not look at me straight anymore.
The Johnson grass shoots up around the mailbox.
I have gotten all the mail I’ll ever want. I’ve seen all there is to see.

The leaves don’t turn in this weather nowadays,
they just fall to the ground as if shot.
Paired butterflies stagger like drunks ready to burst into mothen powder.
This nasty grass is razor sharp. It hurts me.
I see my whole life.
I feel the letter in my breast pocket. You must be proud, somebody said.
I am not proud. I am sad. Jesus Christ, what is there to be proud about?
My heart is breaking and there is nothing I would not do,
no one I would not kill to have you back.
I am older now. I see my whole life. I do not have to look very far.

Everything stopped screaming.
How bad must it have been, baby?
How bad must it have been?

I will come out to meet you
as far as Cho-fu-Sa.

Your daddy gets the bestest pills.

——-Don Whittington


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