Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Their Anguish Personal"

Looks like I forgot to post a free epic for the December 6, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl reaching its $200 goal. So I'm sharing this one, the sequel to "The Candle Burns Not for Us." It was spillover from the December 6, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "branding" square in my 7-16-16 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem includes content that many readers may find disturbing. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers and possibly triggers. It features war, serious disability, refugees, homelessness, food insecurity, survivor guilt, racism, Nazis, extremely graphic torture, hostile use of superpowers, confession of atrocities, Europe in ruins, war trauma, and other mayhem. This poem primarily concerns the relationship between Alicia and Aidan, along with their activities during WWII; it adds detail, but the gist has been mentioned elsewhere, so skipping this shouldn't leave too big a gap. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you wish to read.

"Their Anguish Personal"

Alicia cares for Aidan as best she can,
but the damage is slow to heal. It takes
a while before he can hobble along by
her side; his right leg remains weak, and
that arm curls uselessly against his ribs.

They trade what they can with
other refugees fleeing the Germans,
because Poland is an ugly awful place
these days -- Jews and Gypsies running
alongside scientists and journalists.

It hurts to see them, children huddling
in their mothers' skirts and fathers with
hollow eyes trying to stand guard.

Alicia swaps her healing for a crutch
carved from a tree branch for Aidan.

He trades his knowledge of edible plants
for a pair of skinned squirrels, and although
Alicia has to speak for him, she emphasizes
that he's the one who knows these things.

Her own knowledge of gleaning from
hillsides came from a warmer region, and
she only knows half of what's edible here.

Sometimes, when Aidan has the strength,
he pulls her into his mindscape again where
they can get to know each other and enjoy
a moment's respite from the war-torn land.

It helps, a little, and Alicia is glad that
even though he's not her Guardian,
she has someone to be with.

"He's my uncle," she says
whenever anyone asks. "We
have some family in Canada."

Alicia has a former Guardian there,
out of her service but still kindred.

Charlotte had served as a nurse in
the American army during the Great War,
then retired to the Six Nations Reserve in
Canada. She will take them in, if she's
still alive, and if they can get there.

It makes Alicia feel a little guilty that
she has somewhere to go after she's
finished here, when the other refugees
are different, their tragedies public,
their anguish personal, but Aidan
reminds her that everyone hurts,
so it's important to persevere
and survive however you can.

She isn't ready to leave, though,
not yet: she has unfinished business
with the Nazis, and she means to finish it.

When they cross paths with a small unit
of Allied soldiers, she gets her next chance.

Alicia has a little energy to spare, so she
asks if anyone needs healing, because
Aidan won't let her help him unless she's
taken care of more urgent cases first.

She wonders who taught him triage.

There's an American soldier who has
been captured and broken free, with
long lines of little round burns where
someone branded him with a cigarette.

Alicia heals him while she waits for
their sergeant to come back from
questioning a prisoner so he can
approve the proposed trades, and
then she does another round on
Aidan's right leg which is still a mess.

At last the sergeant returns and
says, "Fucking kraut won't talk," as
he spits in the direction of their prisoner.

Alicia looks up from the supplies that she's
sorting through for barter. "Do you care
how I get him to talk, or only how accurate
the answers are?" she asks the sergeant.

"Accurate is good enough for me," he says,
"but you're just a kid, he won't talk to you."

Aidan looks worried, so Alicia takes the time
to warn him, "I know what I'm doing. I need
to do this. Just try not to pay attention."

His shielding has gotten a bit better,
which is good. Alicia doesn't know a lot
about people who can do special things --
she's only ever met a few other than herself,
and until she met Aidan, the only one she
knew was currently alive was the American
who could pick up tanks with her hands.

Aidan gives her a grudging nod,
and Alicia convinces the soldiers
to loan her a tent and leave her
alone with the Nazi prisoner.

He doesn't look scared until
she slips an ephemeral hand into
his chest and caresses his heart.
He screams, and she moves up
to close her fist around his windpipe,
listening as he chokes on nothing.

Alicia finds the rows of small round brands
and wonders if someone was getting even
for the poor man she had just healed.

She amuses herself by dissolving the skin
with her fingertips to mimic the marks,
laying out pretty patterns across
the bare flesh of his chest.

He keeps screaming, so Alicia
slits his vocal cords to stop the noise.
She can always splice them back together
when he's ready to spill for the sergeant.

Until then, she takes her time, running
her power over his nerves like a bow over
the strings of a violin, her fingers clamping down
on him, now here, now there, as if making notes
up and down the neck of the instrument.

She peels the prisoner's life away,
minute by minute, and stores up
all of the energy for future use.
After all, he won't be needing it.

After the third episode of fainting,
Alicia reconnects his vocal cords and
sends for the sergeant to question him.

The Nazi lies, of course.

Alicia spreads her small hand
over his chest, touches his heart
with her power, and squeezes.

"Your body tells me when you lie,"
she whispers into his ear as he shrieks.

He learns to tell the truth pretty quick.

He tells them his name is Walter Rauff.
He admits to gassing people in vans and
to supervising some secret police in Italy
and to spying here, there, and everywhere.

He spills so many secrets that
the sergeant has to get a notebook
to write them all down for safekeeping.

In thanks for her assistance, the soldiers
shower Alicia with rations and hoarded candy
and one even gives Aidan his last pair of socks --
but now they're terrified of her, and put them
in a wagon with other refugees headed
for an Allied camp. It's fine, really.

Alicia knows that she will be able
to reconnect with her contacts and
offer her services again, and now she
has all the more reason to pitch in.

It's hard traveling Europe in a war,
harder during the times she has had
to do it alone, with no adult to speak
for her. It's easier when she has
someone to lean on, even if Aidan
needs her as much as she needs him.

The wagon isn't bad either, full of
soft straw and warm companions.

She doesn't need to know their histories
to know their backgrounds are bad,
their losses as awful as her own,
their courage and determination
enduring in the face of hardship.

She and Aidan are wounded but
not mortal, their anguish personal,
their wellsprings of energy resilient,
and they stand on common ground
with the other refugees even if
they are not common kind.

Someone begins to sing in Yiddish,
and more voices join in the chorus.

Alicia learns the lines that repeat
and sings along with them. Even
Aidan manages to tap out the beat
with his good hand, and he gives
Alicia a lopsided smile.

It's a safe place, however temporary,
and she gives thanks for that much.

Aidan's energy trickles through
the little group of refugees, soothing
the memories and the losses and
the small discomforts of the ride.

Alicia adds her own to his,
coaxing the children to sleep
and numbing the ache of
half-healed wounds.

Then she curls against
his side, taking comfort in
the steady beat of his heart.

Aidan lifts his left arm and
clumsily tugs the wool blanket
tighter around the two of them.
If the sharp edges of her soul
hurt him, he doesn't show it.

It's not the family she lost,
but it's what she has now,
and Alicia is grateful for it.

* * *


Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture -- She has light copper skin, brown eyes, and short wavy brown hair. As a Mohawk woman, she could not get into Canadian nursing schools, so she went to America and trained there. She served with the U.S. Army in WWI, and she was also one of Dr. Infanta's Guardians for ten years. After the war, Charlotte returned to the Six Nations Reserve.
Qualities: Master (+6) Nurse, Expert (+4) Army Veteran, Expert (+4) Tough, Good (+2) Dancer, Good (+2) Memory, Good (+2) Mother
Poor (-2) Coping with Racism
(See Female Canadian Aboriginal Leaders.)

* * *

“While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage: the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.”
-- Antonio Guterres

Horrible experiences often cause emotional trauma. War is particularly traumatic. Understand how to cope with traumatic stress or help someone else through it.

(This link is terrible, because Nazis.)
Walter Rauff was a Nazi war criminal.

Torture is condemned by human rights organizations and prohibited by international law. It is also still common. Under ordinary circumstances, the accuracy of information obtained by torture is low: some may be truthful, but it is mixed with so many lies as to be practically useless. It's also very easy for a torturer to injure or kill a captive before all relevant information has been extracted. Given Dr. Infanta's superpowers, she can torture without causing more injury than intended, and she is a living lie detector. This does not make torture any more ethical, but does make it far more useful. A further conundrum is whether it is acceptable to torture an evil person to save innocents, as happens here. It takes a very high-minded individual to object to torturing actionable war secrets out of a Nazi war criminal.

Refugees experience trauma before, during, and after their flight. This often leaves deep psychological scars. There are ways for societies, caregivers and other individuals to help refugees.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, history, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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