Her hands beat muscle
with the tenderness of a mallet.

Tendons, on the table, connect
each corner of the present world –

lats curl, hamstrings spasm, calves flex
and one foot howls itself into a crescent.

My jaw aches with the strain
of clamping down on a word


before it squirms up from the lungs
and out, abrades like the sand that filled
a leather boot after the blast
and returned empty, labeled effects.


in freeze frame at the hospital bed,
where Reeves – my suitemate –
gets divorce papers while his stump
hangs in a sling.
Some days,
I remember his empty house.
In my mind he’s hopping on his
prosthetic leg for show, telling me,
‘The house’s echo is a phantom
pain of its own.’

I choke on the words
and times like these I try to


the footmarches through foreign cities
whose names I can not read, or the Sunday drive
over pressure plates, that leave family waiting
for answers to unheard questions.

Back on the table, a thumb – my wife’s –
works with care beside the zippered scar
of my foot.  I turn and to my relief
it is there.

Pain connects us

as do our smiles earned from gritting, chewing,
swallowing a word that tastes like sand.

Author: D. A. Gray

D.A. Gray, now living in Texas, retired from the U.S. Army in 2012, having served as a Master Sergeant. He served under 1st Medical Brigade in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008-2009. Gray has published one book of poetry, Overwatch (Grey Sparrow Press). His work can also be found in several journals, including O’Dark Thirty, Kentucky Review and (forthcoming) The Sewanee Review and War, Literature and the Arts.

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