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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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Changing Bandages

     We were supposed to carry comfort

in our hands, like bowls of porridge.

But look at this tray for changing bandages:

scissors, razor for the really bad parts,

yellow disinfectant for soaking loose

               bandages reluctant to part with flesh;

a hypodermic for the pain.

“Don’t use it unless they scream,” we were told.

I used to hope they’d scream, wish for it;

“Make a peep, and I can help you out,”

I urged one grit-toothed fellow, but he never

unclenched his jaw.

In the next bed, Danny, a great big fellow

     from Arkansas, bellowed as soon as we

     started to tug, got his shot and sat back, arms folded,

               smug and satisfied.

“Jesus, man,” said Jerome across the room,

     “Can’t you tone it down?”

“Nope,” said Danny, not budging as we slowly unwrapped

     what was left of his leg, mangled muscle and bone. Even morphine doesn’t act

     that fast. “I figure, if you’re gonna yell, yell loud.

     They gotta know you mean it. Right ladies?”

“You should know, Danny,” said Rose. We were at the

     worst place now, where blood and pus and bandage all had

     sought to join together as one,

               and darn near succeeded. We had to get it off.

“Okay, Danny,” I said, “this is it.”

When I glanced at him, he winked and

               gave me the nod.

“How does it look, ladies?” he asked,

     eyes on the ceiling. “Think they’ll let me

     keep it?”

“Now, Danny,” said Rose, “don’t you think Dr. Morton would’ve

     told you if he thought it had to come off?”

“Well, they say he has to be able to smell it

     clear from the other end of the ward, before he’ll

     take a knife to it,” Dan said between his teeth.

     “How about another shot?”

I laughed, approximately. “No.”

He shrugged.

“Don’t you have any pride?” Jerome demanded,

     but just then, Dan was holding his breath.

“Hell, no,” he said, as soon as he could talk.

“I’m brave the rest of the day; I guess

     that’s enough. Don’t you think that’s fair—

     one yell, one minute of out-and-out, no-holds-barred cowardice

     for twenty-three hours, fifty-nine minutes of bravery?

     Hell, that’s not even accurate.

     I don’t yell a minute—a second’s closer. You want to know what a minute would be like? I’ll show you.”

We were washing the raw

     gash where his calf used to be. Holding his watch

     up in front of his face, Dan opened his mouth and

               yelled.

I jumped.

“You should a been prepared for that one,”

     Rose said. “Come on, let’s wrap this fool up.”

     Danny was still yelling. I started to giggle.

“Wonderful,” said Rose. “Now I got two fools on my hands.”

The commotion at the door was head nurse Daisy

     just looking curious, keeping her cool, and behind her

     several others including Florence, who did everything

               by the book.

“My, my,” said Daisy, blocking the door. “What’s all this noise?”

Danny’s eyes went to her,

but he went right on yelling.

“All right, we’re done, you can stop now,” Rose said, real loud, but

     eyes back to the second hand, Danny kept on then abruptly

     stopped.

“What are you up to today, Dan?” asked Daisy.

“Ventilatin’ the lungs, ma’am,” said Danny.

I thought I’d die.

“You two all right in here?” Daisy asked.

     I couldn’t speak, but Rose assured her that we were

               fine, just fine.

“Okay,” said Daisy, and turned to go, sweeping the others

     before her. I could hear Florence yammering about

     some regulation, and craziness, and Daisy’s voice:

     “He’s saner than you are, dear.”

Rose turned on Dan. “‘Ventilatin’ the lungs,’ my eye.

     I’ll ventilate your lungs. You’re lucky that wasn’t Flo,

               thinks she’s the original Florence

     on duty today, boy, or you’d have seen some action right here.

You’ll wish you were back in France, before I’m done

               ventilatin’ you.”

“It’s not good to repress your feelings,” said Dan,

     and for a minute there,

     I thought she was going to smack him.

“Mine, I mean,” he explained. “That’s why I yell.

     It’s therapeutic. Haven’t you heard of Freud?”

“Ain’t that shot supposed to make him sleepy?”

Jerome complained. Another fellow down the line

     just groaned and pulled his pillow over his head.

“Therapeutic?” asked Walter, who always wanted to know what had

               already happened. “How’s that?”

     We moved on to his bed as Danny started in.

He discoursed on the not merely

     psychological but also, in fact, the

     physical damage such repression could cause, and

     talked so loud and long we’d finished half the ward

before he quit.

How could I love anyone more than I loved Dan?

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