by Pamela Main

Seems everyone’s earned it these days, PTSD —
even the dog, my favorite,
traumatized one July 4, a neighbor
setting off fireworks an hour straight.
Before the fear of others came to plague us,
we gathered outside to watch,
breathing the night air, breathing each other.
Didn’t get the dogs in soon enough. One
wormed his way from my arms and stayed lost
for hours, though we called him,
his name unheard in the falling sky.
Small and white, he rabbit-ran half a mile, towards the light
of a convenience store. A Good Samaritan
found and returned him. Shaken but alive, lucky but
forever afraid of noise and sky. Yet
he rests well between summer’s thunderstorms.

“He thought he was on the battlefield,” my friend said,
meaning the dog who fled.
Her son, just returned from Afghanistan,
the war imagery understandable.
She confessed — every time
she saw a woman in a burka
she broke out in cold sweat, imagined
a bomb stashed beneath folds of cloth,
and maybe not a woman at all
but a man, cross dressing, and maybe
not a bomb but a gun aimed at her firstborn.
She recalled how her son, bored on a day off
shopped the bazaars of Baghdad,
mailed home parcels of ugly clothes and lovely rugs
that reeked of gunpowder. Blown across 6000 miles, the
scent made her pause and choose to smile
in the middle of her busy day —
her boy hated to shop.

And my father, gunner in the belly of an American plane,
once aimed at haystacks in North Korea,
and then returned to Pennsylvania,
unlike his bunkmates, alive,
sullen and sleepy. In that stillness his only child was born.
“It was never called anything back then,” my mother recalled.
“Maybe shell shock.”
Long divorced, he’s come back again.
Old, ill, his coughs
cut through the nights
like a machete or gunshot.
The daylight holds us in its mercy–
we drive the countrysides of his youth
and eat hushed lunches beneath grown-up trees.


Photo by Axel Grollemund from Pexels