Vicarious PTSD

PTSD is something I’ve always heard about, but besides hearing about how bad it can be for the individual and the flashbacks that can occur, I don’t truly know what it would be like to experience it.  Brian Turner does an excellent job at giving the reader a glimpse of what it might be like to have to endure such a thing caused by war.  The one that really stuck out as doing this was “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center” with its blending of worlds.  Despite the unfortunate nature of the subject, poetry can allow for the expression of a specific feeling to be communicated so well, and here Turner does this in a way that helps the reader imagine the horror of experiencing a flashback in the middle of an everyday, normal activity of shopping for home improvement supplies.  One moment the narrator is “[s]tanding in aisle 16, the hammer and anchor aisle,” and after he “[busts] a 50 pound box of double-headed nails” he is suddenly flashing back to a night in Baghdad where “[a]t dawn, when the shelling stops,/ hundreds of bandages will not be enough.”

It’s horrifying to imagine having to wake up everyday – or even in the middle of the night, from what I’m to understand – knowing that in the middle of the day you might start flashing back to moments in a war, where everything around you starts sending you images and sounds that remind you of those intense points in time, creating a blended reality because your brain has been traumatized by what you’ve experienced.  I hadn’t thought about that until I read lines like, “Cash registers open and slide shut/ with a sound of machine guns being charged.”

He did a great job of this in other poems as well, like with “On The Flight to Alamosa, Colorado” where he is flying out from Denver only to find himself being taken back, in his mind, to “the belly of a C-130/ with Fiorillo’s and Hathaway’s and Jax’s/ silence, cold rifles in our hands,/ the Highway of Death guiding us/ to the airstrip at Anaconda, 210/ bullets sleeping on my chest.”  Again, I can’t imagine losing my grip on reality like that, and “horrifying” is the only word that comes to mind.

I wonder if it would change people’s mind about joining the military if they were to read material like this and allow themselves to truly feel what Turner is expressing with these pieces?

Turner, Brian. Phantom noise. Farmington, Me.: Alice James Books, 2010. Print.

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