Volunteer

By DAVID LEHMAN

The drill instructor was not in a good mood. He had had a mi-
graine all weekend. The weather sucked. He hated sports and there
were going to be no pleasantries about the Yanks, the Mets, the
Knicks, the Nets, or any other team. He knew as I knew that every-
thing depended on one thing: the book. You went by the book. Fol-
low orders and stay out of trouble.

“You volunteered,” he said. I didn’t bother to correct him. He got
the gurney ready. I climbed on it, raised my left arm as commanded
and kept the right arm along my side. He readied the torch. “You can
make this easier on both of us,” he said. He could turn off the ma-
chine at any moment. “All you have to do is tell the truth.”

He talked a lot about what he was going to do. “Some patients
want to know everything,” he said. “Not me,” I said. “You just do what
you have to do.” He got the contraption to work. It made a lot of
noise. A voice came out of it and said “breathe,” and then, thirty sec-
onds later, “you may now breathe out.”

To kill the time he asked, “did you fight in any wars?” and I said,
“I’m still fighting,” and he said, “you look like the young man in the
bar who has had one bourbon too many and is still fighting to main-
tain his dignity, to keep sentimentality at bay, and to let his anger go
up in an ellipsis of humor. And he stays this side of drunk but good-
humored, even though he has lost his lover and now it’s as though
she never existed, and he looks for her lips and her mouth in the face
of each new lover, but none will do.”

The machine stopped. He flipped a switch. “OK,” he said. “You
can go.”

David Lehman’s most recent book of poems is New and Selected Poems (2013). His latest nonfiction book is Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World (HarperCollins, 2015). He is editor of The Best American Poetry series and teaches at The New School in New York. 

[Purchase your copy of Issue 10 here.]

Volunteer

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