Non Sequitur

“When a bullet leaves an M4,
it can, depending on weight
and powder used, travel
up to 3500 feet per second.”

He tells me this in the car, on the way to the beach,
a blinding summer day, cloudless
and ten degrees too hot.

I have just asked the question
you should never ask a veteran,
even if he’s your lover.

I just wanted to show that I wasn’t trying to forget,
that I accept unspeakable things,
that I wanted to share everything.

An image of the road floats
in miniature on his iris.

“3500 feet per second.
That’s almost 2500 miles per hour.”

I grunt polite astonishment.

It’s rubbed off on me;
most days I speak
in ambiguous sounds
foregoing
communication for equilibrium
my tongue red and white
as a Swiss flag.

I read a story in the Gay City News
about a returning Marine
who pistol-whipped his boyfriend
into a coma and then swallowed a bullet
black and hot as a coal.

This is the kind of thing
that doesn’t happen to us.

Instead, we find ourselves
in conversations of near-misses

where dull, heavy words fall
like fuse-less mortar shells
impacting the earth and crumpling
into something dented,
something shapeless,
smelling vaguely of fire.

Author: Charlie Bondhus

Charlie Bondhus’s second poetry book, All the Heat We Could Carry, won the 2013 Main Street Rag Award and the 2014 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His first book, How the Boy Might See It was reissued in fall 2015 in a revised, expanded edition from Jane’s Boy Press. His work appears in numerous journals, including Poetry, The Bellevue Literary Review, The Missouri Review, Copper Nickel, The Gay & Lesbian Review, The Alabama Literary Review, and Midwest Quarterly. He is assistant professor of English at Raritan Valley Community College (NJ) and is the poetry editor at The Good Men Project (goodmenproject.com).

2 thoughts on “Non Sequitur”

  1. I’m not a veteran and I’ve never even fired a gun, so I had to do a lot of research while I was writing ALL THE HEAT WE COULD CARRY. The speed at which a bullet travels is one of the many things I had to look up and then confirm with veteran friends. If nothing else, writing this book helped me see how stepping outside one’s area can lead to new, interesting directions in poetry.

  2. I have not seen many poems about the communications problems between veterans and civilians, a common problem in real life. This poem does a good job, I think, of showing the experiential gulf, and an implicit sense of alienation in the veteran, all nicely presented with appropriate military imagery. The speaker’s sense of caution or wariness (especially the hopeful but slightly unconvincing “doesn’t happen to us”) seems true to life.

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