VA Hospital

Red Cross volunteers bring flowers to the living

at a VA hospital. American flags flutter in every room,

the atmosphere is military; hurry up and wait,

a sergeant major makes sure hallways are spit shined,

reminds a patient of how he had to see his face in

mirrored boots, stolen by a butcher from Bensonhurst

who went AWOL during basic.

He thinks of a homesick woodsman from Berwick, Maine

who was dressed down for calling his rifle a gun instead

of a piece; he broke down and wept, pissed himself on

the barrack floor and was soon discharged as a section eight,

“unfit for military duty.”

Paunchy patients wearing VFW jackets and caps adorned

with patches, pins and campaign ribbons shuffle down halls

searching for waiting rooms; they’ll mingle with the young

like fathers and sons swapping stories about Anzio beach, landing

at Inchon, siege of Khe Sanh and bloody chaos from Baghdad to Baquba.

Bodies mangled by roadside bombs sit with glazed eyes extending

lobster claw arms turning pages in old magazines.

A wheel chair bound weekend warrior stares where his legs used

to be as he waits for a new pair. A volunteer agonizes about what

to say when a guardsman says “I really like your shoes, I used to

wear them all the time,”

A gangrenous stink drifts down the hall as a much older patient

gets cleaned up for a new fitting.

The hospital, a messy bureaucratic battlefield,

wounded managing the wounded, victims of post

traumatic stress assigned to watch the suicidally

depressed, disengaged clerks who can’t be bothered

to report black mold and mice running rampant,

indifferent staff trying to look busy carrying clipboards

mindlessly gossiping at the coffee machine.

Brain damaged soldiers wander a maze of trapezoid walls

of a fun house with distorting mirrors, hospital halls seem

to murmur ghostly pleas for the help of a medic.

Loopy on percocet, patients withdraw to their rooms

resentful and disenfranchised under orders not to talk

to the media.