36 days

Scared shitless, that was the phrase Pete Fisher, 
 the kid from South Hampton, used when we 
 boarded the ships, a bible, a picture 
 of my wife, a pocket knife, cigarettes 
 I would never smoke tucked in my pack, and the 
 Spam I would ration when I spent three 
 days living in a hole, that Jap wanted to blow 
 my brains out, oh, and Thomas Copeland 
 from Texas, he was an artist, a little 
 too much so, he made bracelets out of 
 anything he could find, scrap metal, left-

over rope, candy wrappers men left in the dirt, 
 and one day they brought a jet so big 
 it kicked up clouds of sand and sent them 
 spinning around and around and Thomas said
 “Gawlee! Look at all them bracelets!”

and we laughed, especially 
 George Harris who was from my home state 
 and I found that out when I pronounced oil like 
 “ole” and he asked me where I was from and I said 
 “North Carolina” and he said “I’m

from the Old North State too” and from then on 
 he called me Old North, and so all of those boys, 
 we were just boys, were with me when they
 unhinged the doors of those box ships, and we
 just stood there, like opening a furnace door 
 and the heat hitting you two seconds after,

we saw men’s lives stop, just stop — 
 every thought, every move, at that moment
 became about not dying. And when every 
 moment becomes about not dying for 36 days 
 you actually die, or at least the important part 
 of you dies, just a slow, thoughtful death. 
 That’s what I remember.

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