Holiday 2015 - THE POTOMAC

Three Poems

Alan Catlin

Thank You for Your Service

This is where they throw them:
the parish house lawns, hospital
sidewalks, homeless shelter steps;
all the winos and the freaks,
petty thieves and pass out artists,
the two bit losers with no place to go.
On slow nights, they drive out to a place
beyond the pines, just this side of the county
line, remove their shoes, and tell them
to walk home in all kinds of weather,
Say, "Don't even think about knocking
on someone's door for directions or
a ride because we will find out."
It's what they do on the Force,
have done for years, generations,
"My Daddy did it and now, so do I."
one patrolman says. Later, at the trial,
after one of "the rides" turns up dead,
bruised, battered, way underdressed
for the season, frozen, the prosecutor asks,
"What did you think when you saw
he had a t-shirt that said:
'What have you done for your country?
I took a bullet in the head.'"
"That he stole it."
"Well, it turns out he didn't. Earned it
the hard way in Iraq. Had a drawer full
of medals and citations for uncommon
bravery in the face of the enemy.
And a documented medical condition
that said his war wounds contributed
to a situation where his normal behavior
would appear to be mimicking that of
a substance abuser. A report he carried
with him at all times. You might have
noticed that if you checked what was in
his pockets."
It was all there in black and white
like the patrol car they drove him to
his death in.

Our Gang

They looked like what you would imagine
Our Gang would look like on drugs:
post–adolescent self-abusers, eyes leaden
and dead, ragged speech slurred, growing
pains reflected in muscle spasms, arrested
development, stunted growth that made
them more feral than human. They weren't
so much juvenile delinquents as pre-teen
criminals, robbing convenience stores, hobby
shops and supermarkets for poor man's crack:
whipped cream aerosol cans, rubber cement,
airplane glue they inhaled from paper bags
until their eyes rolled back into their head
and their labored breath grew shallow.
As they aged, rapid air blasts and poppers just
didn't cut it: four minutes in Nirvana followed
by a death grip headache made them eager
for something stronger than moon gas for their
accelerated heart beat trip to the land of Oz.
It was Satan's secret what they were doing,
a little Texas Shoe Shine a couple of trips to
juvie just increased their need for a total
brain clearing white out worse than any snow
storm anyone ever knew. On the street they
were known as Glueys growing from urban
urchins to full–fledged criminals robbing
the blind and the infirm to feed habits,
to score new and better hardware, shooting
the breeze until some first rate amyls could be
had. Sold their younger sisters, already hooked
on the aroma of men, for boppers and crank,
felt taller than God long enough to crave
climax in the back seat of a stolen car swerving
in and out of traffic lanes, their maker calling
them home through stereo speakers, Led Zeppelin
building a Stairway to Heaven only they could climb


The spray painted sign on
the abandoned insane asylum wall
says, "Hell was more fun than this."
Those soiled walls, mold damp and
cracking, faint vestiges seen of standard
institutional paint, thirty years removed
from habitation, care. Everything inside
neglected, broken, ruined, phased out
in state mandated nocare for the infirm,
the disconnected, dissociative, distressed,
dumped into large communities to become
homeless, beggars, criminals, wards of
state run, out-patient, nohelp clinics.
Latter day spelunkers, urban explorers,
swear these grounds, this ruin in particular,
are haunted. That screams from water
torture therapy: cold water immersions,
wrapping in wet sheets naked to dry in noheat
rooms, therapeutic random beatings,
locked room restraint therapy, standard practices
for Freudian hysterics, women in not–so–
long-ago, bygone years, followed by daily
forced feedings, water colonics making
modern day innovation like electroshock
seem humane by comparison. An admission
here is forever, cure rates minimal or not
at all, results fabricated by close observation,
Mengele would understand what the photo of
a woman with hair standing on end after
a day or two here, under a bell jar, really meant:
a room of one's own in a carefully calibrated
system of hell, the screams muted now, but
no amount of time can erase the kind of wounds
inflicted here.

             for bjc and all the los olvidados

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