The fighting never stops for long before the battle starts again; shouts serrate my brain as casualties are tagged for hauling off. My torso tenses as tanks rumble into place, start shelling through the night. Sometimes I bugle for my will to charge through no-man's land, seize control, force an armistice. But every time I'm routed in mid-charge, captured, tortured, freed once more to fight these ceaseless wars. Other times I stage a brief retreat, rise from bed, feel my toes sink into sand. The desert drifts to ankle height beneath old photos in the hall; grains fall from frames of parents, children, others in my life. I pause before the pictures, sink in pondering who I was, am, might have been. Sand tugs my heels as I wander back to bed, crawl in, pinned down til dawn.
"I'm sorry,... we'll fight anytime," my wife asides to guests who watch us brawl the night before our wedding anniversary. "We're so flexible," she adds sarcastically. then turns to wallop me another verbal blow. The guests have watched our marriage seesaw for a decade, amazed that it's survived for twenty-seven years of fireworks and coos. At daybreak I stretch out my arm, realize our skirmish left me in a single-occupancy bed. Remorse squats on my chest, pushes me into the mattress. I reach for the radio, ask two sighing cellos to pick the knot around my chest, let piano keys roll down my spine. All right, okay, last night was my fault! As usual I drove my point too far into the table, proved it by my own example, flattering that celebrity then asking her "Don't assholes lead to freedom for problems of your kind?" Now dawn postures by my bed, hands on hips, nods toward the telephone. I lurch to snap inertia's strands, dial the motel where my bride stormed off to sleep. She lifts the phone beside her bed, pauses, floats a guarded "Yes...?" I take a deep breath, push the words I'm sorry through the line.
Caretaker! take care, for we run in straits. - John Berryman
Some days I wake with light, spread my wings and fly. Other times I rise with darkness lounging in my mind, lean words like ladders on the inside of the pit but my hands and feet keep slipping as I heave myself toward light. Today I leapt from the hole inside my soul, tangoed with my shadow until noon, then lost my nerve, trudged with guard-and- prisoner steps until I stumbled, fell. Now ideas writhe inside ennui, unruly inmates growling only bullets in the warden's brain can free them from their cells. Suddenly a thought bursts free, skitters like a cocained rat, sits back on its haunches, roars, "Bring on the goddamned cat!"
Life is a strange teacher. First she gives you the test, then the lesson. -Anonymous
Pick your battles, choose your ground. I crusaded fifty years before that order carved a beachhead in my brain. Persevere through pain and fear: the prior oath I took to slay the dragons I saw under every challenge, large or small. I'd square my shoulders, grit my teeth, drive forward towards imagined light. In college that old vow clapped boxing gloves and rugby cleats onto my paws, later marched me into courtrooms, boardrooms, left my soulmate barely hanging on til she could land a punch. Then my kids and endless energy linked hands, headed south, left me boney legs to swing from bed. I heard soul's shout above my ego's roar, realized not every challenge signals war, not every task's a threat. Now each time ego flashes armor in my eyes, soul jumps in front: "Is this one significant?" A dozen times each day I step back, grin, amazed to hear my answer: "No!"