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Ann Clark

Pareidolia

He can’t walk through the detector
at the TSA checkpoint in Syracuse airport
because his prostheses are metal,
and he looks like some sci-fi terminator
from the knees down. The board shorts
he wears don’t screen others
from the hi-tech obscenity of his missing limbs
as security pats him over.
25, he’s about 25,
and flying to Washington/Dulles,
as I am, for he waits at the same gate
and idly pokes an iPhone.
One arm is ridged with melted
skin, candle wax, the kind that comes
from being on fire, and it’s hard
to look away, to not get caught staring;
but he is so familiar, there must be some
significance, some reason, and I wonder
if this was once my student,
this angry wreckage who refuses to board
early with the old, the sick, those needing
special assistance.
There must be some reason
his seat is all the way in the back
of the plane, just across from mine,
so that I must watch him again
as he stows his ruck, knowing he won’t
welcome any offered help, any thanks
for his sacrifice.

An older boyfriend served in Vietnam,
told me he got out because a sniper’s bullet,
nearly spent, hit him straight between the eyes.
“I’d call that a sign, wouldn’t you?” he asked.
Humans always look for patterns.
Another friend, who always carries a gun,
joined the Secret Service to avoid the draft,
but was sent into the Army to spy on our own
troops. In Vietnam, he kept track of how many
Viet Cong kills he made, how many of his own
men he lost. “It equaled out—16 on either side.
I maintained the balance,” he said.
Humans find images in wood grain and marble,
see patterns in chaos, and the Virgin Mary
in an oil-stained driveway near Costco.
I see all of my students sitting across the aisle
on a plane from Syracuse to DC,
their legs stowed
in the overhead
luggage compartment.

Ann Clark teaches English at SUNY Jefferson, a community college in northern NY, which serves Fort Drum, the home of the 10th Mountain Division.

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