Sam Witt

Occupation: Dreamland

(for Garrett Scott, November 19, 1969 – March 2, 2006)
Those boys, the ones you filmed in Fallujah,
they were drowning too. That’s why
when they patrol the streets of that desert city
in night vision, in your film, I can’t watch it anymore
not without feeling this pressure
behind my eyes and inside my ears for softly then,
you opened your mouth inside the god,
at the bottom of the deep end, the sunlight
slides in at an angle through the leaded windows
to the rustling of fir needles and here I am
at a writers’ colony, 6 weeks
after I met Lt. Basik at your wake, on crutches
because they had to amputate his foot.
It’s unthinkable: to have filmed, for the very first time,
an I.E.D. exploding, not 60 feet away from your humvee,
only to return to San Diego a year later
and have a heart attack in a swimming pool.
Lie back, turn onto one side,
carry a palm across my chest in a free-style crawl.
The pressure just grows.
When I press my palms to my ears and cry out,
trying to feel each auricle with fluid submerged,
all I can hear is each second curiously undoing the next
but instead of water flooding into your lungs, the light,
God’s syrup, streams through this place, released
from that moment your heart exploded
without a sound (though my eardrums are ringing still),
from that place where you wait at the deep end without a body.
There’s a crucifix on the wall, missing its christ.
I wait here too in an empty bed, a human pudding
the ooze in your golden locks
has been laved into, into a nectar,
scratched by the scamper of a squirrel’s feet on the copper roof,
the sound of those locks being picked. Open up.
The god will still be screaming at his feet, deaf;
this clothed, naked ape
still occupying the bed instead of ash,
chips of bone, preserved in honey in a funeral urn.
And your body sinks so decisively
to the bottom, even though
they’ve already divided up your ashes between them:
one syllable cancels out the next
to the tune of the sidling light, the pearling
of a turtle dove, the weeping horses.
It is blood that is streaming and blood that is spilled.
You can see right through it, like water, or air,
having passed back through my lungs,
and so it has been twice made,
at the exact same weight we shared, 49 kilos,
once for you, once for me,
and the balance of that weight now
is zero. I can feel it, a little tremolo when I talk.
And if somebody has been erased,
replaced by these glittering needles,
then it isn’t hard to imagine
that everything, just this once, has been uncreated,
especially this copper light,
that kneeling inside of it,
would be like kneeling underwater,
and to cry out when you did as it withdrew,
leaving behind this alienated substance
in the place of your body, in which I lie,
it’s like touching the copper mask
of my own face, through which I can see
drops of sap burning in the late light,
a sleek honeyeater,
balanced with its tail against the trunk.
There’s a tiny waterfall in the distance, silent and white.
I have come to occupy this body for a while,
where the smeared face of it goes
in human form, on this piece of paper:
“I have many faces, but only one is branded to my skin,”
even as the light completes its favorite trick
of draining away. The occupation begins now,
in a darkened room: I am wakened again
into my fear of touch.

Sam Witt
“Occupation: Dreamland” first appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, Volume 20, 2008.