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POETRY / Overlooking the VA / Amanda Mitzel

Copyright Warner Bros.

Copyright Warner Bros.

Took my little coffee in a purple paper cup
to the fifth floor of this 
trauma hospital’s parking garage 
for a lunch break under the deathbeat pulse
of helicopter blades 

and I’m overlooking the VA hospital’s
parking garage like a mirror image of my own
and it’s gotta be that word overlooking  
that led my mind down this path,
past the pie-fume rise of chicory steam
and the steel bite of some recollection of snow

to this: 
the bright twist vision of Jack Torrance 
dragging himself and that sticky-edged axe 
through the sliding glass door, 
right into the heart of the veteran’s hospital 

and he slumps real home-like into 
one of the wingback chairs 
like he’s back in the Colorado Lounge,
waiting to be seen with eyes 
on the digital clock but seeing past it
to tunnels of shut rooms and carpeted halls, 
stucco walls so blank they look like papier-mâché 
and masks made to remember the dead

his ears picking up on the announcement of 
corn chowder from twelve to two
but also hearing the thin, white-mist howl of wolves
pushed past wet muzzles and blue-dotted tongues
(they go in caves, Danny, where it’s warm)

and maybe this is where the maze led all along,
the prize for getting past the topiary jungle:
this intersection of Galvez and Canal
and the waiting room beyond tethered palms
where he’s just told them exactly what war he has seen
(with all due respect, ma’am, it’s a living fucking hell

and Jack has a lot on his mind
so he wrote it all down on the 
crumpled pink post-it in his left fist, 
his list of the top three things he needs to talk about
and he flipped a dime to narrow down the pool
and circled the winner with a grease pencil 
he found under a pile of old menus that 
talked of minty aperitifs and chicken à la king 

he’s checked in now and waiting and 
he’ll tell the psychiatrist all about 
the item circled with an oily red swoop: 

the miserable death of Dick Hallorann
and how it’s eating Jack up 
(though some days it eats him up that
it’s not eating him up)
and he’ll also bring up the scent of oranges
and the clinking of spoons in industrial sinks,
the hum that’s burrowed in his back teeth,
ice cream melting and meat gone green,
the thick weight of the axe and the arching war cry 
it makes when he swings it in the dead black hollows
of the ballroom, champagne-sweet –  

what those things do to him,
what sounds echo in the cave of his mind 
when his thoughts go all bee-buzzy,
how the stories about himself he once typed on the 
gummy pink ridges inside his skull 
have melted and flattened and poured out past some limit,
sanity burst like a pop fizz on the skillet
with a smell of lard and a hiss like ether
as his hands try to trace the lines of his son’s face
and reach for the loose braid of someone named Wendy’s hair
when all he can feel is the braille of this axe handle’s woodgrain eye –  

he’ll wait and see what the doctor makes of all of that.

Amanda Mitzel lives with her husband and animal children in New Orleans. She has fiction published in The Summerset Review and her poems can be read at She loves sumo and storms.