©2018 by Jeffrey A. Burt


My First Semester on the G.I. Bill

I keep thinking of finding a safe place-safe place-safe place.
Hard when inside your head is hazardous.
I’m okay with violence, the swift turn I make
when a tender touch on my shoulder from behind makes me shudder.
I’m fed all this re- stuff:  re-union, re-integration, re-knit, re-store,
the act of accumulating stuff more than a sixty-four pound backpack,
but re-call’s what I know and dread,
more months of someone making me get up out of bed.
I haven’t seen a sunrise since I re-turned.
Students see me as mis-fit, un-desirable, dis-abled, un-hinged, a danger
to myself and others even leaning on a pile of books
in a campus library waiting for something to stick, to tick,
to up-tick, re-tick, time-tick, tic-toc, clock-detonate.
Friends worry when I drink de-caf that I will stay depressed,
Friends worry when I drink half-half that I will be half-crazy.
Friends worry when I drink whole-caf that I’ll go entirely off.
Friends take me to forests for natural frond and flora-healing.
Friends take me to lakes and the ocean for whatever the opposite
of what water torture I might have been involved with
but my arid tongue burned in the desert cannot speak of.
Friends take me to open ranges in Utah, in some awkward hope
that God-mountain will speak from some red mesa.
Friends tell me that I’m emotionally vulnerable, that I’m not vulnerable to beauty,
that I’m overly vulnerable to influences, television, movies
and the internet like the Spanish influenza to my soul.
Friends tell me to re-lax, like I was lax and need to re-member it,
un-member it, dis-member it, take the fixed digit of my spine and slump.
Friends tell me to stretch, to re-capture the space around my body,
beyond my body, to un-wind, that I’m too fetal, too re-wound.
Wound, like a coil. Wound, like an open sore.
Sometimes when I hear a baby crying from a house I pass I cry, too.
Sometimes when I hear a baby crying from a house I pass I cry
because my re-action is to knock in the door and make her parents beg
for their lives, beg for life, anyone’s life, my life.
Sometimes when I hear a baby crying from a house I pass I cry—
I’m the best and the brightest, I’m the reverted warrior, I should be wanted,
I’m wet, I’m wordless, I’m hungry, my bones are soft, I ache to be held.

Aldo Leopold's Cabin

jacked cider, giant saw teeth, bald eagles raking
the sleepy Wisconsin River for risen fish,
sandbars with ribbons of chocolate like a marble cake unfrosted,
water shallow on the sides, encrypted,
eddied like a young girl’s heart, feet cartographic,
eyes a compass rose, riverbank a commingled death and life,
hollows where light speaks into a dark space
and a field opens--nature left alone does not leave a person alone
but left alone inhabits,
a new covenant, thorn-snagged twill twirls
left like crumbs to lead back to the beginning,
pricking briars so thick light is periodic.

August Dog Days

Two buzz-cut boys traipsing,
tracking down the diviner hunched 
with dowsing stick, a witching rod,
his eyes dry cracked cups with dark
flared saucers curled beneath them,
we found the stallion Cold Rolled Steel
that galloped hard tail teased out 
until darkness devoured him like a drop 
and we were left to ravage the tin of the earth 
for the scent of his iron shoes
and the molten fragrance of mane;
and watched as darkness swept the valley
from the third-story perch, a yellow lamp
behind us and a fan blowing cool air
into the staggering wall of heat behind us;
and down in the brown-brown hills
and cedars the stocky black bull
standing stone-still in a torrential rain
so thick and cold it seemed 
to gel on his back, the place 
where steam rose, he in no need 
of lightning, for he was thunder.

We Should Be Anvils

Ceasing fire
is not like dousing the wood
so that it cannot be lit
or stomping the leaves
until they disintegrate  
beneath your boot,
when the bullets of hostility
remain in the clips of your teeth.
Like tongs holding molten iron, 
our lips must restrain
the scorching words our tongues  
have wish to brand,
resist igneous language  
like an anvil
bears the beating
to shape the bars of speech
into tools of understanding, 
smooth and levered, 
to do the work
the heat had first intended.