The Tower Journal

Joseph Buehler

Floating Soldiers

Old soldiers do not die.
They just float dreamily above the housetops.
Sometimes they descend into vegetable gardens
or the occasional flower bed; then the wind usually
carries them up again. There are so many of them up
there that they constantly keep boinking their heads
together. They have no rank and they do not salute each
other. They are not army or navy or marine or air force men
any longer. None of them are in uniform; they all wear different
styles of pajamas. They do not get into fights and none of them
have weapons. They politely apologize to each other whenever they
accidentally bump into each other. They are, of course, made up of
all different races. They all have smiles on their faces and each one
will occasionally hold a pickle in his right or left hand. However, they
never get hungry or thirsty. On rainy or snowy days or nights they
miraculously stay dry. Who can explain it? They are all avid fans of
W.C. Fields. Some like John Wayne---others do not. Most of them enjoy
the movies of James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant,
Clark Gable, Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Some admire Brando---
others do not; most of them are not familiar at all with James Dean. They
can take Mickey Mouse or leave him alone, but most of them enjoy the antics
of Donald Duck.

Myrtle Beach, May 2008

I saw a single jellyfish, quite close, rolling in the surf,
in toward the shore, then out to sea again, over and over.
I was careful not to get too close to it. I was walking in the surf,
playing tag with the waves.

We saw many more of them up on the hard packed brown sand,
dead or dying in the sun. They were the wide arrow shaped white
kind of jellyfish with purple markings and inch long tentacles. I
didn’t know such type of jellyfish existed; I always thought that
they possessed very long tentacles, but the sum of what I do not
know is pretty much limitless.

Beach walkers stopped to stare at them, but kept their distance.
The gray impassive Atlantic kept on rolling in and out.
There were very few swimmers to be seen in the waves because
the water was quite cold.

Nut House Memories
(At Eighteen)

I throw excrement loaded sheets into giant iron circular
washers. (I duck imaginary bullets that strike the brick wall
behind me: too many gangster movies.) There is no real danger
from that middle aged guy over there; he doesn’t attack employees,
but he has assaulted inmates in the past; he sneaks up behind them.

Is the teen aged kid with the crazy crossed eyes dangerous? He
rides with me in the big laundry truck (you must show no fear,
that’s essential) along with the small red faced guy and the big gentle
guy with the pushed in face and mangled ears who always talks about
war games and the silent man who never speaks a word.(What were
their names?)

Deliveries of clean clothes and bedding to the different wards in the
red brick buildings (all the buildings looked pretty much alike) and
the removal of the dirty excrement stuff. Crazy people, men in these wards
and women in those (“Hey, Handsome,” a young woman once said to me)
all behind the black iron locked doors. People screaming, repeating
things over and over again.

Working with old Bert in the Clothing Room. He is middle sized and
thin and he has a piece missing from one ear. ( I never asked him why. He
probably would have told me.) He is always friendly and helpful and is as
sane as you are.

(I worked at the State Hospital for a year and a half or close to two years.)
Stark black trees on the hill in the winter snow. Squat efficient red brick
buildings spread out over an Ohio landscape. A road leads down to the
sanity of the highway.

The Little Tykes’ Overcoats

Let’s not lose our
transcendental train of thought
which goes
choo choo, choo choo
all around the pretty black track,
the shiny black track,
up and down the highlands,
and over the wetlands
and down in the lowlands
and zipping upward and onward
toward the green horizon
and toward that lowered purple sky
that glowers in the distance; this ground is
full of unused junked refrigerators and stoves,
graham crackers left in the milk too long, soggy,
the little tykes up on Santa’s ample lap.
(Whiskey is Santa’s favorite drink and he takes it straight
and by the way, my grandmother is eighty six years old and
doesn’t have glasses---she takes it straight from the bottle.)
A woman’s voice:
“Don’t get any on me now. You know how Daddy hates soda pop
and he won’t like it if you spill any on me. But that’s astonishing,
don’t you agree? Of course, it’s full of egregious mistakes and
borrowed mendacity and so forth---we have to stop our car here,
Burrell---sit back in the seat like a good boy---the funeral’s passing—
--my, it’s a long one, isn’t it? Is that cousin Janet and Uncle Ralph?
You can’t be too careful about these things---watch it! Don’t put too
much sugar in the chocolate pudding, Selma. You don’t want the guests
to get sick, do you? This is the poorer section of town, isn’t it? Do you
think these people are dangerous? He looks like a possible rapist to me.
What a lovely party! Is that Mudyard Ripling, the English writer? And Carl
Sandpile, the poet? Is it just me or is it hot in here? Is that Thomas Wolfe?
No, not Tom Wolfe, Thomas. My, he’s tall, isn’t he? And so handsome!
Aren’t you glad to be living in New York? Would you want to live anywhere
else? I wouldn’t.”


Keep your hands and legs inside the car at all times.
Recall what happened in Pittsburgh in the early seventies
or the late eighties or the mid nineties just before the roof fell in,
when the amphitheater was half full of water and the guy kept moving
and the people were calling out for a new pope and then James---you
remember him, the intern?, that thin intense guy who liked to wake
patients up every two hours in the middle of the night when they were
trying to get some sleep?, (the last straw was when he put compression
socks on that guy who didn’t, it turned out, need them; what a sadist),
anyway he got lost in the afterglow coming out of Chicago on the “A”
train---or was it the “B” train?, covered in fresh black soot from the
inverted chimneys.

We haven’t seen the likes of him, as the Irish say, since 1984, I think it was,
when Bronski was hit in the noggin with a forward pass when he wasn’t looking
---it was quite deliberate, as the replay clearly demonstrated, and they didn’t do
anything to Zipulpus either, even though he was clearly at fault. They didn’t
even give his team a five yard penalty. Outrageous! I saw Zipulpus grin. I know
what he did and because of that Bronski’s team lost the game. And I was rooting
for them too. I saw the skies grow cloudy. I recognized the change in the weather
after Bronski was almost felled. I saw the snow start to fall from the sky, the flakes
getting larger and heavier by the moment, covering the stadium and the people in a
cold silent white shroud.


We missed the nine a.m. car ferry to Ocracoke Island by three
   minutes and so we had to wait an hour for the next one.
When it finally arrived, Ted parked our car near the backward
   v of the front. There were two other vehicles in our party.

   The day was overcast. Our boat tore swiftly through pale
waves; they were just the sound waves at first---not very high---
   and then they were joined by Atlantic waves which were
much higher and much more forceful.

My wife Trish missed out on taking a picture of another car-
   filled ferry traveling back toward Hatteras. It passed us very
quickly. We stared at the people on board and they stared back
   at us and then they were gone from our sight as though they
had never been.

   On the island we saw some of the famous Ocracoke ponies;
they were not galloping freely on some windswept beach, but
   stood placidly behind a wooden fence. They were about a
hundred feet away from us by a small corral. Finally three of
   them ambled slowly over to munch on small piles of hay about
twenty feet from us. They didn’t even raise their uncaring heads
   to acknowledge our presence.

There were perhaps fifteen of us altogether and we dined at a
   converted-from-an-old-house restaurant. Two small girls
were with us; one was blonde and the other was dark haired.
   The waitress seated us at three separate tables. Later, across
a body of water called Silver Lake, we viewed the white painted
   stubby-looking lighthouse that guarded the island.

   On our way back to Hatteras, braving ocean waves again, we
spotted a small nearby anchored motor boat that was moving up
   and down in the water. Three fishermen, standing in hip boots
on a lonely brown-sand spit of beach, were casting their lines toward
   a low gloomy-looking sky.

They would be forced to leave their small island soon before a high tide
   rolled in to cover everything in its path.

Copyright © 2014 Joseph Buehler

Joseph Buehler has been published by The Kansas Magazine, The Canadian Forum, Bumble Jacket Miscellany, Defenestration, Common Ground Review, Theodate, Mad Swirl, and The Write Room.  He has poems forthcoming in The Stray Branch and The Write Room.

The Tower Journal
Spring/Summer 2014