Marilyn McMahon

Marilyn McMahon served as a U.S. Navy nurse from 1967-1972, including almost two years working with Marine Corps war casualties in Philadelphia and a 1969-1970 stint at Da Nang Naval Hospital. Her poems have been published in The Vietnam War in American Stories, Songs, and Poems, and in Visions of War, Dreams of Peace.
Wounds Of War


He walks off the chopper
In his relief at being out of the fire zone
       he has forgotten that he hurts
       or that he was in terror.


The shell fragment is too large
it has invaded his heart
       his lungs, his liver, his spleen.
He will not survive the night.


In order that another,
       who has a better chance,
       might survive,
she must remove this patient from life
       support equipment.
Her professional smile calms the other patients,
       hides the anguished murderer inside.


Each wound receives the surgeon's scrutiny:
       this we will close, this we will drain,
       this entire area must be removed.
The eye surgeon, the chest surgeon,
       the orthopedist.
Each focuses on his own plot
forgetting for a time
       their common ground.


Infection sets in.
The wound becomes a greenhouse
for exotic parasitic growths.


Wounds heal from the bottom up
       and from the outside in.
Each must be kept open,
       must be probed
       and exposed to light.
Must be inspected
       and known.


She sits at the side of the road
offering to sell stolen oranges
       to the jeep riders passing by.
She does not name herself wounded.
Two rockets blew away her home
and rice paddy.
       Her husband is dead.
       Her son has been drafted.
       Her baby will never cry again.


He wheels his custom chair
       through the crowded bookstore.
He focuses on narrow aisles and tall shelves
   avoiding images
       of jungle trails and buried mines
       of leaving in the mud
              his legs
              and his left hand.


In rage he shatters another window with his fist.
The glass shards never cut deeply enough
       to cleanse the guilt.


She is afraid to trust again.
Her days are haunted
       by the texture of blood
       the odor of burns
       the face of senseless death;
friends known and loved
She sits alone in the darkened room
       scotch her only hope.


He stares at the gun he saved,
turning it over and over in his tired hands.
He is desperate to stop the sounds
       and the pictures.


Wounds must be inspected
      and known.
Must be kept open
      and probed
      and exposed to light.
Healing is from the bottom up