Light and Dark: The Sleeping Forest by Ben Rasnic

After work,
you fill the emptiness
with Jim Beam. Hard
whiskey to feed
the slow burn inside……………

The animals come out at night—
feel their hot breath heaving inside you,
pulsing steel curtain eyes,
prowling the dark of your mind,
the headaches that won’t go away……..
Pumped gas all week
to escape welfare,
mesmerized by the digits spinning
madly into the thousands
for minimum wage;

replay thoughts of the young punk
shoving a Smith & Wesson in your face,
laughing as he circled the pumps, fleeing
into the chaos of the night;
the silver-haired southern bitch
in the gray Eldorado
calling you “boy”,

how she cowered when the forest shook,
the skeletal face paled
when the beasts began to stir
behind your angry eyes……………

You rub the nervous scar
branding the stride of your left leg,
shrapnel souvenirs garnered
from a war without heroes—

A number in a fishbowl
stole your future, football
scholarship at Ohio State, Pasadena
in the winter………………

tucked an M-16 in your armpit, grenades
in your deep pockets, then parachuted you
into the crimson tide of an Asian hell.
Jungle sucking your life into its own.

(Barely eighteen
you still remembered
the heroic war stories
your father had told you,
whiskey leaping from his
burning breath, bloodshot eyes
forcing back the pain.
You felt ashamed
by thoughts of desertion.)

You learned to sniff out the enemy,
random flesh clinging to your smelly boots,
idly watching whole villages consumed in flames,
adolescent women screaming over dead husbands,
children twisted beneath charred bicycles
pumped full of American artillery
when they refused to die.

Soldiers slept next to
shot dead from bureaucratic incompetence,
dirty needles, spoiled milk dripping
from desperate veins…………….

Back home,
L.A. was in celebration—
Banners held high saluted
The mighty Trojans’ Rose Bowl victory
over Ohio State,

called you “Baby Burner”
when you stepped off the plane.

You swallow another shot of whiskey
chased with beer.
Listen to an old Byrds’ album, Hendrix
and Stones, reading Kafka by candlelight, drifting……………

Slept in mountains
with no need for weapons,
knew creeks & rivers
by their Cherokee names.
Learned the secrets
of the wilderness,
the divine interplay
between man & Nature,
of light and shadow,
the love of a good woman;
remedy for the memory
of lost souls lurking in that incessant jungle night
(sniper fire ripped clean to bone,
slow motion dreams of gaining turf
for the famed Buckeye backfield
blacked out by a bamboo curtain of blood.)

She never minded the awkward limp,
the fact you couldn’t dance
anymore,
good in bed
she always said,
but you felt clumsy,
never in rhythm………………….

She went with the deer,
clash of metal & glass
on a cold rainy night
left her body limp on dark highway….

(Firebombs had leveled the village,
the sick smell of napalm,
engulfing the senses,
left smoking weeks after………….)

This whiskey leaves you dizzy,
numb in your empty apartment
listening to the cry of night trains,
staring at dreams in glass frames
gathering dust.

Thoughts turn to the Purple Heart
flushed down a pay toilet in L.A.,
dead corpses piled in a corner,
the women who turned you down.

Cradling an empty liquor bottle,
you stumble across the broken furniture,
hear the muted cheers
greeting you deep into Trojan territory;

the hum of enemy machine fire
cutting you down
inches away from new ground.

Quietly you ease into bed,
full of whiskey to shroud the outcome,
head swimming from the smell of gasoline,
sheets the color of fire;

Coyote eyes spinning wildly
in the smoke-filled room

Lie down with the darkness

so as not to disturb
the sleeping forest.

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