Mar 23, 2012 0 Share

Post Traumatic Poetry

Stylized illustration of hand through prison bars.
Artwork by John Scott Holman

Chaos is comforting for those who carry the deep psychic scars of long and unspeakable battles. At the close of the Vietnam War countless American soldiers found themselves restless and overwhelmed upon finally returning home. After fearing for their lives in the humid jungles of a hostile, alien world, dreaming only of drive-in movies, good ol' American food, and the family and sweethearts they left behind ... these ghostly survivors found their long awaited homecoming not only disappointing but oddly terrifying.

I went undiagnosed for nearly 25 years. That alone resulted in enormous stress and heartache. To make matters worse, my family faced a series of tragedies to rival those of Job, that ever-suffering Biblical figure.

Shortly after my diagnosis, my life grew stable for the first time in over two decades. Yet my anxiety was more crippling than ever. I wanted only to return to the comforting chaos of my past. Why?

The following words are a cryptic portrait of a profound inner struggle—a battle between my ruptured psyche, still caught somewhere in the humid jungles of my own suffering, and the brutally unfamiliar calm following that devastating storm.

A Prisoner of Heaven

On empty streets I searched for knowledge in a bottle of beer
 glimpsed the comedy of life while staring down the barrel of a .45.
But I learned! Oh, I learned!
And poetry ran wild and barefoot through the garbage in the sweatbox alleys.
We slept in the shadow of society,
Lying on our backs beneath a concrete network of freeways,
While the hum of the traffic above lulled us to sleep.
As we closed our eyes we vowed to be friends forever.

But forever came sooner than expected.
I was shot down in the streets on a quiet summer evening,
When the air was perfumed with adolescent lust and rage
And the red sky was cut into one long, jagged strip by the black teeth of the skyscrapers,
The skyscrapers that knelt their heads when my blood hit the pavement,
And seemed to onlookers like great robed monks standing in mourning.

These things I remember.
I see them now like blood-stained snapshots.
But we are not to think of such things here in heaven.
Though I am safe in this place I miss my friends
And we have wine only for our meals.
The rest say terrible things about the streets I came from
And they are happy for their eyes have seen God.
I too have seen God
And cried out when I looked into his eyes ...
For I could not mistake the eyes of the boy who killed me!
And though the rest of his features were kind I knew then that I'd been lied to,
And vowed to escape this gilded prison.
All around me are smiling faces, empty as a mannequin's.
The birds in the trees are stuffed yet somehow they sing.
My neighbors believe I am their friend
But I am alone.

Last night, as the voices of the choirs drifted like lazy gulls into the sunset,
I dreamt I was lying on my back beneath a freeway.
My friends slept around me.
It was quiet.
I was hungry and I was scared but that was alright,
For I could hear the hum of the traffic above me.
I knew that it would put me to sleep
And, momentarily forgetting heaven,
I believed it would meet my ears when I awoke.