As You Were Cover

Five-Hour Energy

by Larissa Douglass

I.

A bomb at an embassy somewhere
Reminds me of you
At four a.m., driving to nowhere,
Asphalt solitude.
Your canceled dates, a missed interview

Warn with this journey
That you're letting go, and driving back
No sleep, hour forty
The invasion of Baghdad soundtrack
Truck speakers pound back

Ear-popping pressure, tank treads engage
Metal grinds and time
Rotates. Your exhausted brain upstaged,
By radial climb
So tired. Exhaust breathes, the motor whines

Anti-aircraft hiss
Takes you offramp, gas station beacon,
For a machine gun piss
On a decade's dreams, caffeine staking
Your heart, reawakened.

Cash out nightmares with Five-Hour Energy.
Drink five a.m. relief
From dawn's sweating, charred-skull memory.
Suicidal grief
Surrenders in dreamless, cortex relief

To legal bottles
Of amino acids, vitamins.
Dilated pupils
Glaze over dead friends in sandbagged fluorescence.
When flashback presence

Jump starts your sterile departure,
When a drive to liberty
Is better than shrinks, pills, bars, the ladder
To responsibility -
Your body goes, your mind stays in captivity.

Five-Hour Energy
Kills nightmares, takes you other places.
Your dead family -
"Like peons in a tragedy, who made bad choices."
Did you escape this?

The military freed you from bayou shame.
Your dad taught you to fly
Your mom taught you to drink hurricanes.
Buzz cut runaway
Your hair grew back, streaked shocks of grey.

Your mom's never did.
Before she passed, no care in this world
Clouded the dashboard.
Girlfriends soared to blowjob altitude,
California prepared

You for desert sweat, Mojave sky.
Mindful government
Trained you in Death Valley prophecy;
Agent of judgment,
Freedom's arm and live vengeful weapon.

No mock madinah
Waited beneath eastern desert's scrutiny
Naïve Crusader
Hypervigilant, frayed humanity,
Your guts mortared nightly.

Shipped you home, post-tour,
Two worlds in secret sleep suspending,
'Til Baghdad horror
Rammed through the roadblocks, through Prazosin,
Hydrocodone double vision:

Fentanyl homeland security,
Ambien green zone,
Chronic pain prescription poetry.
Propranalol veteran
Cranked on army stock, V. A. depression.

No drug can replace
Love realized, sex repressurized.
But no love eliminates
Panic of the possessed and terrorized.
Faith cannot neutralize

Puddled brains congealed in X-ray sun
Boy's eye left open
In rigid judgment, your companion
On suburban return
Grocery carts, lawn mower blade cuts crimson.

Two worlds at six
Grace God's absence and counsel silenced
Murder sleeps in dreaming fists
Naked nights of loneliness, taut defense,
Survival, the unconfessed

Guilt of your empty, camouflaged shell.
Congratulated
For your boxstore mojo, pretend normal.
Nerves become separate
Soft fibres hang, dangling delicate.

You miss brothers dead.
Through days of patchworked time flow. You don't know
How you got here? - Did
You drive here? How'd you get a front row
Seat, back to Baghdad now,

Baby? Draining Five-Hour Energy
Protean chronic pain
You're cavalry waiting for the cavalry.
The clock dawns seven:
Out of body you float, spectral sane.

Suicide watch walls
You're scared now you'll never get better
Gun retorts bleed your soul,
Change you within, change you forever.
Doctors uncover

The shaking, cold, ominous feeling
Of life shutting down
Explosions flashback, despair sinking
Webs of death all round
Five-Hour Energy - four bottles drawn.

Escape overdrive
Rev the engine, gas station oasis
Fuels the will to live
Signs recede in dawn's early darkness,
Prove through night's promise

That you are still here. Vacuums created,
Must be filled. You won't risk it,
So I will. Snowed your doctors, trial tested
They released you sick,
Before you met me, egg-shell optimistic.

Showed me trust with your battleface -
And rabid wolf pledges.
New love was just another catalyst,
A dream on the edges
Of sweet arrows that love's young god fledges.

You can't call our proximity vigil
Post-combat romance.
No love invests in bankrupt capital.
Faint hope entranced us,
But no lipstick melts on burning tanks.

No Southern charm bluff
Sees action in Operation Meltdown.
Adoration lust,
You're all survival readiness handsome,
My last pregnant sanctum.
II.

I wanted you to admit
A love enough to submit
To life without traumas.
But hearts change like channels.
Each day, world summits
Play cameras for bullets.
You asked me how I understand?
I had a friend, brilliant,
Not afraid of mangles
In the engines and the gears.
They called him embedded,
They called him a prince.
Now, I see where you're headed
And I call on your fears.

You remind me of him.
Jump out planes on a whim,
Leap off bridges, fearless,
Deaf in the distance,
Terror transmuted, to save an idea,
Not of honour, or duty, or freedom.
Nor money, nor vengeance.
It's an exchange: life for courage.
He died in Afghanistan,
Roadside bomb carrion.
And I knew when he died
The world's hopes altered
His big promise magnified
Like that! He was gone.

His father died in a year,
Heartbreak loss could not heal.
Tributes sang our sorrows,
He bore death's golden laurels.
We all had promise, sure,
His path was higher, brighter, purer.
His fate seemed unmistakable -
He was irreplaceable.
Someone who could turn ideas into facts
Scribe of future social contracts.
So much knowledge and potential;
When he died,
I saw the debt, the differential,
The burden that the loss exacts.

I loved you and found a voice
For him. We have no choice -
We who survive. We live in their place
We run their race,
As well as our own.
We dream upside down,
Where everything's wrong.
Cross that line, never belong,
Pieces no longer fit as planned.
It does not matter: I understand
This differential imperative.
I reflect his light divergent.
A fallen man's representative
Honours what he could have been.

Remember your men's example.
Wear well their bloodied mantle.
Know their missions had there been no war.
Find that other, better world,
They wait ahead, at higher elevations,
They light our future in all its calculations.
Your eight o'clock reminder
Recalls you're still a soldier.
Turn back on that road,
That loops back to Baghdad,
Where predetermined conditions
Delivered detainee shocks,
And broadcast tortured apparitions
Of bravado's disgrace. Now look ahead:

Your men greet dawn's visitor,
The morning's stellar nightcomer.
Piercing brightness fires the mountains
The sun climbs the valley, the throat of the plains.
Your men light your road,
Stay with you at each relapse episode.
Ghosted by sin in homeland's desert
Make for the signal point of rebirth,
On your night drive to a new life.
Strike nine, I rise in firm belief
I'll meet you at the city's gate
To embrace the man who ends his struggle,
Who invades that mined road way
And arrives in a different capital.