From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Hurt Souls (poem)

By Dennis Serdel

The nerves run from Johnny's eyes
like electricity through his lower brain
down his spine and down his chest
through his arms & through his legs
until he feels insane.
Shards of crystal glass inside of him
force their way to his skin
like a lightbulb that's been on too long
he feels it pop inside of him.
So he calls the VA Crisis line,
they try to talk him down.
But Johnny gets in his car
driving a hundred miles an hour,
through red lights, stop signs and skids
into the Emergency
at the VA hospital.
Runs up the stairs into the waiting room
with the strength of a madman.
It takes 3 VA men to knock him down
hold him on the floor while a nurse
finally runs up with a needle to
give Johnny a heavy shot to calm him
down but it doesn't work so well
so the 3 VA men
carry him struggling to a bed in the back,
tie his arms and legs with leather straps
and stand over him while the nurse
comes with a needle with the most
powerful shot she has.
Johnny stops squirming and thrashing
lays his head on the pillow staring
up at the lights on the ceiling.
Lightning ricochets off of the inside
of his skull and puts bullet holes
through the lower and inner brain.
It feels like anxiety, overwhelmingness,
not knowing what to do, confusion,
waking up in a locked room like his life
is gone and his arms and legs
leather wrapped to a special bed.
His eyes look like gray and black
storm clouds.
After days he thought were years,
a VA man and a Nurse walk in,
take the IV out and catheter too.
They help him into a wheel chair
to see the VA psychiatrist
for a 2 hour cry or die session
as the old man is trying to find out
what had happened to him,
ending up broken but Johnny
sees an enemy, his eyes bulge
and grow so big that they blow up,
splashing the ceiling that falls
like red acid rain.
Johnny tells the shrink
that he was sodomized when he
was a poor teenager by Uncle Sam.
Then they wheel him to a normal
patients room and Johnny looks
outside the window and it is raining
just like the VA.
Then the depression hits and
flattens him like a penny
on a railroad track.
Days go by like tours and
finds Johnny sitting in a chair
in the Lobby of a
VA Mental health building
with other hurt souls.
There is a WWII hat
slumping in the chair with his chin
on his chest.
An Iraq tours sitting in
a corner chair talking to himself.
Korean Silver Star at the window
of one of the secretaries there.
A Desert Storm T-Shirt who went to
his war healthy but now he is sick
in mind and body.
An Afghan Vet staring at a computer
with his war in it.
A Vietnam Purple Heart pounding
on the Coke machine
trying to get his money back.

—Dennis Serdel
Light Infantry
Vietnam 1968

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