Charles Southerland

David's Bronze Suit

Listen to the audio version.

He lies in bed and groans with injuries
sustained from falling off the roof last week
and wakes me up, delirious. He sees
me lying in my bed too tired to speak
, my "trach" tube just removed. The orderlies
are taking care to change my sheets; the reek
of draining blood comes to my nostrils fresh
with ruin, black and rife, my bandaged flesh

so sore the rest of me ignores a nurse
who takes my vital signs. A TV's on
to pass the time, a game show which is worse
than Gilligan reruns. My leg is gone
above the knee and I am so averse
to look at it, to cast my gaze upon
what's missing. I close my eyes, drift to sleep.
I go there to that world beneath the deep.

He wakes me up and asks me would I call
the nurse. Yes, I; "Too late, I've pissed the bed,"
he says. "Go back to sleep, forget it all."
But I look over and his piss is red
and dripping, pouring on the floor; "Ya'll
had better get in here", I thought I said.
They take him down to surgery and back
between my nightmare and the nap I lack.

It takes some time before he stirs enough
to speak again; "Are you still there, my friend?"
His voice carries between the curtains, gruff
and raspy. "Yes"– my only word to send
by air-mail waffles back there in the rough
at him. I am naked here to the wind,
exposed to doctors prodding. I am shy
but I don't care. I've lost all pride and sigh.

A chopper lands nearby on the heliport.
An orderly cries out to colleagues; "Fresh meat!"
She fluffs my pillows, rushes to abort
her chores for new arrivals in the heat-
blast from exhausts outside, with the effort
of an athlete. I am jealous, complete
with knowledge that I'll never run again.
I anguish and sob through the whirling din.

I promise me no one will ever see
me cry, be sorry for myself, but deal
with grace the loss I carry, lest I be
thought a cripple. Here, I will have to steal
some courage before I leave this place, free
of what had made me lame, for me to heal.
I watch him over there, a broken neck
in-cast, immobile for some time, a wreck.

But he can speak, my God, how he can speak
and never stops, it seems. My throat is sore
and hoarse. My mouth is dry, and from my cheek
I pick a speck of gravel out and more
around and behind my ear while I seek
for tissues on the stand. It is a chore
for me to move my arm and grasp the box.
He says to me; "My name is David Cox."

He says he lives on Bainbridge Island. Good.
Says demons and angels are fighting here
right now in front of us; one wears a hood
and they're fighting above him with no fear
of being seen. I'm thinking that I should
perhaps call the nurse in and make it clear
he's lost his mind again and I can't take
it now—please knock him out for pity's sake.

I find myself stuck in an army tank
with him and we are rolling down the road,
the interstate through Kansas with my rank
of sergeant. He's a lowly private toad
who talks and talks. It's cramped in here and dank
enough to fry the circuits, overload
the fuses, strand us on the highway, dead.

He wakes me, puking up his guts in bed.

He says that he's a Mormon. I don't care
if he's a Haré Krishna in a robe.
His wife comes in and nods to me; the pair
of them begin to whisper, mouth to lobe,
forget I'm here. Their special underwear
is on my mind and I can't help but probe
their conversation with a smile or two.
What is a good Baptist supposed to do?

Anemia forces me down the flights
for plasma, my type, I hope, A, I think,
it's Positive—they know. Down here, the lights
are brighter for sticking an arm. I blink
away the painful stick of steel. She writes:
'One unit plasma delivered.' I wink
at her with my un-swollen eye for kicks
and she winks back, both my arms full of pricks.

I ask me questions in the green-lit dark
while David's babbling continues. I can't
do much about it. I feel sorry; I narc
him out and wait impatiently for scant
sounds of shoes coming my way and I mark
their cadence, recognize the nurse and chant
her name beneath my breath. "Go Alice! Go…"
My questions spin and spin, take me below.

I ask the doctor what he did with it,
my leg. He says they took it to the dump
in Oregon, buried it in a pit
for medical waste. I feel the nerves jump
in my thigh beneath the bandages. Shit!
I lie there trying to console my stump.
I turn my head away and ride the train
along the coast south through the driving rain.

I don't know why they take him out this time
and bring him back at midnight, really late
for operations but it's better I'm
in the dark than know too much of his fate
except he snores and swallows all the slime
his sinus drains–why don't they elevate…?
Oh my. He looks just like the Tin Man.
They've wrapped his torso in bronze like a can.

to tell him I was dreaming. "No, I'm not
a pilot." She, my love, comes in with tea,
a mug of it and full of ice, a lot
of sugar and a Snickers bar but he
can't turn his head and sneezes and his snot
goes from his nose blows to his feet and she,
my love, gags at the sight and leaves the room
for air until the nurse cleans up the spume.

He wakes me up again, says, "Call the nurse."
I'm groggy, reach out for the button knob.
He's wheezing, I can hear it, so much worse
than before. A lung's collapsed and a blob
of blood spills on his gown. I hear a curse
when she comes in; "Oh damn!" Here comes a mob
of doctor's, nurses, orderlies and staff.
They can't move him now, and I hear him laugh

and in delirium he yells above
them all and says, "Are you watching this, man?"
"Yeah", I say. He says this is the end of
him, clenched teeth and pain. They do a scan
and call for a torch-set, and all the love
I feel for doctors flees my mind. No fan
of panic, I see them scurrying and place
a leather cover where they burn a space–

It seems to take forever. They sedate
him and the slag falls on his skin inside
the heated bronze. He screams out loud too late
and passes out. A surgeon slits his side&endash;
he tries three times, counts to re-inflate
the lung and gets it on the fourth, the hide
is cooking from the slag. Dave's unaware,
alive, but unaware. He doesn't care.

I see all of this because they forgot
to close the curtains in their dizzy rush.
I can't complain, they saved my life and fought
to save my leg. It's been two weeks. I hush
my thoughts and go to sleep. It's hot.
I'm hunting quail on Dad's old farm. I flush
the covey and bag a double. My dog
hunts dead and I lift myself from the fog.

I'm all alone when I wake up and see
the sun shining brightly through the window.
I'm on another floor, the Seventh. He
is gone. They bring me breakfast. There are low
tones in the hallway while I eat. Let it be.
It's quiet like I like and I let go.
It's just another stage to getting out.
Maybe David's taking a different route.


Charles Southerland lost his right leg above the knee at an accident scene in 2003 at Moses Lake, Washington. He was struck by a car while he was helping the injured kids who drunkenly lost control of their truck. He was in the hospital for a month. He lives as an above-knee amputee on his farm in Arkansas. Southerland has been writing poetry since 2000 and haas been published in a few good journals. He was nominated for a Pushcart prize a few years ago and was a finalist in the 2015 Nemerov Sonnet contest.