There is expected and unexpected loss:
I wanted to say reasonable and unreasonable. But I didn’t. So there you have it.
When I decided to join the army, I put my hand on Cat’s hand and I told her. Whole-hearted. I made sure she knew what she had to know. About the house and the papers. About me and her. I took care of things. I told her I had to go and I told her I was coming home. And I took care of things.
My first week in Kandahar, I saw a man lose his legs. He was running. I remember the sound and then the light. He was a torso. I didn’t see where his legs ended up. It looked worse than dying. The separation of body from body. And I thought, that’s going to be me. I recognized myself. I settled into it.
Memory is not linear. We catch ourselves trying to know. As if to change a memory by changing a future. As if they are different. As if they are questions.
I knew that my body was not my body. I knew I wasn’t meant to come back whole. I didn’t know exactly how but I knew I would live and I knew I would lose things.
He was the first one. I saw people disappear. I saw a sergeant turn a .45 on himself. But the worst were the guys who got ripped in half. Who looked like war and died before the showing.
If I’d known before I signed the paper I wouldn’t have signed. I wouldn’t have used one arm to sign away the other. We get trapped in the space between. Knowing and not knowing. Stopping and not being able to stop.
And then my time was up. They sent me home. You have to understand, I’d known it solid. It had been a long time since I’d thought of my future as a whole. And then I was just home. Just walking around. I’d get stuck in front of windows. Surprised by the symmetry of limbs. My wife would put her head on my shoulder and I’d watch my arm come around her. Try to figure out how I’d hold her if I was one of the other guys. Someone who looked like they’d been in a war. Who looked like their past. Maybe I wouldn’t need the numbers then. Maybe I could be normal on the inside if the outside broke away.
Lisa Birman is a poet and novelist. She has just published her first novel, How To Walk Away (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2015).
Lisa is the author of the poetry collection For That Return Passage – a Valentine for the United States of America (Hollowdeck Press), and co-editor of the anthology Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action (Coffee House Press). Her work has appeared in a wide range of well-respected poetry journals and she has published several chapbooks of poetry, including deportation poems and a trilogy of chapbooks in collaboration with Berlin-based singer/songwriter Josepha Conrad.
Lisa has been teaching writing in the United States, Australia, and the Czech Republic for the past fifteen years. She served as the Director of the prestigious Summer Writing Program at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics for twelve years and continues to teach for the MFA in Creative Writing.
Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Lisa moved to New York via Seattle in 1995. She moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1997 to pursue her MFA in Writing and Poetics. Now a dual citizen, she’s still Australian at heart and often trades the Colorado winter for a few months of Melbourne summer to spend time with her family.
Lisa resides in Boulder, Colorado, where she works as a freelance writer and editor. She is the editor of a forthcoming collection of letters from Frances LeFevre Waldman to poet Anne Waldman, Dearest Annie, You wanted a report on Berkson’s class (Hanging Loose Press), and is currently completing her second novel.
Beth Couture‘s work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. She is currently working on her MSS at Bryn Mawr in Philadelphia.