J. C. Todd


for Cathy

Piece of shit war. Her mourning’s a blight zone,
her bristle and snarl an off-limits compound
that no one goes near. She will not rebound,
she’s so FUBAR’d. She’d gotten the patient home-
free to Ramstein. Deplaned. Passed from her own
command, transfer signed. Stable. The on-ground
med crew bungled the airway—a profound
inanity that screwed the vitals. Full-blown
systems failure. Not resuscitated,
although they worked on him, a non-com who
should have gone home to the girl he dated
or married, or Mom and Dad, where he’d undo
their fears. But fantasy’s Oprah-rated.
Now this one’s the soldier who didn’t come through.

This one’s the airman who’s got to come through
the flight alive, cocooned in twilight sleep,
a patient pumped with meds designed to keep
the range of organ function within a value
defined as viable for transport. True,
she’s been trained to follow orders that overleap
good medicine, good sense, but not to sweep
aside her oath to heal. On-ground, she knew
that prepping him was packaging a lie—
one less war zone body count. A fake out.
She’ll land him live although the indices
have turned against survival. Verify
his status. Joke, this mercy flight’s a take-out
delivery. He’s cold to the elbows and knees.

Deliberately. His coltish elbow. His need.
His nudge. His Sorry, Doc. His wink. Her dumb
ache—too many dead. The opium
of exhaustion peaks as the muezzin’s reed-
like call invades the triage bay with its creed
of martyrs. The boyish, mangled one
she’s examining will not be among
them. Arm’s gone, but trunk’s intact. Plus newbie
Medic Twerp of the flirty elbow has turned
respectful—could have been the rectal he watched
her give or the muezzin’s shift to lament so spare
it slips a needle in the heart that has spurned
relief and draws off gall, the fester of botched
merit. Where the arm was, the medic strokes air.

Dammit. Where is it? Not the airy peignoir
at home, but her M9, safety on as she sleeps.
Shrug on camos, lace up boots—creeps
her out she has to dress to piss. Kevlar
too. Strapping on her weapon bugs her bladder.
Off to the toilet trailer by flashlight, leaks
a risk, or mortar blasts or worse. She keeps
the whistle close although the webinar
on female safety claimed your average grunt
more rape-prone than your airman. A stiff prick,
how’s it like an IED? Makes you meat.
Dirty fluorescence, bleach, mold, pee—like blunt
force trauma. Two sinks, two stalls, stink of septic.
New twist for the riddle. Punch line’s still meat.

New twist. Bombs riddle a market. Heroes meet
the wounded, aid shoppers mad to escape,
cradle the dying, and detonate.
It rains petals. They’re flesh, faintly sweet,
as if burning sugars tinge the air. The heat
does it, sizzles juices like lamb on a grate,
but it’s dog, human, goat, an intimate
cross-species slurry or oddly warm sleet
that pierces skin—organic shrapnel, mixing
with clay shards, fine grains of cumin, cayenne,
bits of plastic, glass, a chaos mosaic
or tattoo that her tweezing and stitching
will not remove. In dreams, their skin gapes open
to wound her, pain that has no analgesic.

Too wound up and there’s no analgesic
strong enough to bring her down but uproar.
Like an orgy of Texas Hold’em. A five-shot pour
of vodka disguised as IV fluid. Skinflick
sex—a ruckus of buddy-rut, or chick-
lit porn—soft kissing, nipples perking lipward.
Or her—a Rock Band star, her voice pure raw.
She wants hareem, what’s banned by Qur’anic
law, an antidote to her frantic heist
of life from slaughter. Why don’t the brass forbid
the docs to revive a charred and gutted shell?
To stop before condemning a life to a mist
of pain and meds. She’ll revive herself with id,
on prowl with kitkat ears, black wig, a twitchy tail.

This tattered ear. Black tail
of muscle, flapping. Crater-
back. This one-lung breather
with his gargled bawl.
His blood-frothed cough. His bale-
ful rattle. Flail and falter.
Hair’s breadth inhale. Seizure.
Failure. Flatline’s squall.
Oh, this Iraq, Balad,
this choice to heal she made
in a time of peace has led
her here to triage bled-
out hulks, a disabled savior
where death’s the liberator.

She needs a Life Saver to liberate her
mouth with mint, to strip the paste of dust
that coats her teeth, the sand that floss won’t flush
out, to brighten her breath as if he could taste her
on Skype. The hype of the virtual dater.
She’ll flash a look that stimulates touch
and desire so he’ll feel inside her brusque
sign-on the intimate spot where they are
together for real, dogs asleep on the bed
between them, hand in hand in fur. The turn-on
when he shoos them. Now their growls would pique her gall.
She’d flick the safety off, take aim. What they had—
done. Best prepare him to live with her half-gone,
fucked up by damage beyond her control.

This damage-check delay—beyond her control.
Her crew held on board—that too. And the stack
of crates whose joints are stained a tarry black.
The down-shift of scent to stench as the hold
heats up. Ground time stretched past noon. The porthole
pelted by sand in wind, a maniac
beat like death metal drumming. Perfect Iraq
send-off for her exit. How will her soul
convalesce from this tour of racket
and ruin? She’s alive but festering, rot
in her cells, like these boxed remains, ID packet
taped to each lumpy shroud. She’s zeroed out,
too close to nothing to even feel alone,
as flat as a jpeg grayed to monotone.

In the jpeg, against a monotone
background, a flurry of white flakes
speckles the tousle of a child’s bare
head. One more pity-them, warfare
image of Baghdad’s random quakes
from market bombings, the brimstone
of a blast ashing the cheekbone
and cowlick of the boy, whose wide awake
grin shocks her from the nightmare
plots she brings to every web-aired
feature on Iraq. Then the deep-down ache
as she takes in the gist of what’s shown.
It’s cyber snow. The kid’s in front of his home.
Peace within war this morning, a white zone.


J. C. Todd is author of Beyond Repair (Able Muse Press 2021), The Damages of Morning (Moonstone Press 2018), an Eric Hoffer Award finalist, and three other books of poems. She and MaryAnn L. Miller have collaborated on two Lucia Press artist books held in collections across the nation including that of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center of the National Museum of Women in the Arts: On Foot/By Hand (2018) and FUBAR (2016). The text of the latter was adapted from the seventh sonnet [this tattered ear] of “FUBAR’d,” and its second sonnet [This one’s the airman] was an honorable mention for the 2019 Able Muse Write Prize. Winner of the 2016 International Literary Award’s Rita Dove Prize for Poetry and twice a finalist for Poetry Society of America awards, Todd has held fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and artist residency programs, including Bemis Center, Ragdale, Ucross, and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts’ artist exchange program. Her work has been published in American Poetry Review, Baltimore Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and is forthcoming in Gargoyle. She has taught in the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College and the MFA program at Rosemont College and lives in Philadelphia, PA.


Hilary Biehl
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Jen Karetnick
E. R. Lutken
Marjorie Maddox
Diane Lee Moomey
Samantha Pious
Barbara Sabol
Wendy Sloan
Myrna Stone
J. C. Todd
Paulette Turco
Elaine Wilburt
Joyce Wilson


This issue of Mezzo Cammin is also dedicated to its Founder and Managing Editor for 15 years, Dr. Kim Bridgford (1959-2020). [Photo: Marion Ettinger].

The 2021 Poetry by the Sea conference was canceled due to COVID-19. The next conference is planned for May 24-27 2022.

Nicole Michaud: Throughout history, both women and fruit have been popular and enduring subjects for paintings. Women are referred to as the earth in which man plants a formed seed, distancing women from their capacity as creator. Rather, women engaging in procreation utilize the male 'pollen' to create and grow the embryonic seed of future generations.

From the Nariphon of Buddhist mythology (literal fruits shaped as women's bodies and absent bones) growing from the Makkaliphon tree, to the pomegranate of Greek mythology and the apple (or fig) of Judeo-Christian writings, women and fruit have been inextricably linked for millennia. Fruit is the basis of the temptation and fall from grace of Adam and Eve in the Bible, and serves as a treacherous precursor to conflict in mythologies such as the Greek golden apple's role in beginning the Trojan War. Women's bodies and body parts are often compared to apples, pears, melons, lemons, and other fruit. This association and dehumanization of women has facilitated an enduring mistreatment, ownership, and underestimation of capacity.

Inside, transformations are happening.

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