Photography © Chad Parenteau
He said he had shrapnel in both shoulders,
that they had to do surgery on his back,
shoulders, eyes. Twenty years in the Army.
“It was harder to get out than to enlist,”
he said. Transferred to multiple hospitals,
he is now studying to be a nurse.
I can’t help but wonder if he feels
as maimed as I do–both breasts gone,
one side radiated, huge scars across
my chest. I wonder silently about
his scars as I tell him he looks great.
“No one would know by looking at you.”
I imagine us dancing, him leading me
in a slow waltz, cocking his head back
in a romantic gesture as he smiles and winks.
And suddenly I am 22 again, and I suppose
he is 25, and none of this ever happened.
My chest isn’t radiated, skin a permanent
bronze, tough as shoe tongues.
He was not stationed across the world,
never a lifer who lost his identity.
I didn’t lose all my hair, wear
the Michelle wig for almost a year.
No multiple surgeries on his shoulders, eyes.
His back, perfect. No invisible scars either.
Was I nauseous from chemo? I can’t recall.
I only want to plead, Make me feel beautiful again.
No longer is he the scarecrow who lost all his hay.
In my mind I hear him say, Put me back together again.
Chad Parenteau is Associate Editor of Oddball Magazine.
Caroline Johnson is a double Scorpio and enjoys probing the unconscious. Her first full-length collection, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018), was inspired by years of family caregiving. She is currently president of Poets & Patrons of Chicago, and enjoys spending time with her two cats, Rumble and Squirt.
What a wonderfully written conversation and sharing and imagination. Thank you, Caroline Johnson.