Justin Barisich

Our Psychiatric Casualties (a found poem, expounded upon)


how much fear and tedium should a soldier swallow?

is this enough psychic salve to keep him fighting?

are you feeling alright this morning?
You must keep from cracking, for their sake.

I am no expert like you,
but this is mental medicine at war with itself,
the fury no one sees coming.


This is nothing new.
Achilles would have cried
over the body of Patroclus
on the shores of Troy
or beside the Bay of Pigs.
He would have bathed himself
in his battle-brother’s blood
with or without a priest or alchemist
showering him in magical liniments
for invisible wounds.


During the Civil War, the field surgeons
named it an irritable heart,
tried to quell the beaten
butterflies with bottles of young bourbon.

In World War I, we called it shell shock,
and our boys were shot for cowardice,
electroshocked for their tenaciousness.

In the Second Great War, the nightmares
were known as battle fatigue,
war neuroses, and Freud asked
if they’d shot their mothers
and if so, in which theaters,
and where the hole had borne
its way through their bodies.

The great psychs once defined PTSD
as the post-Vietnam syndrome,
and in every acid-smacked flashback,
some men return to the jungle,
some have never left.


If a soldier should break down during combat,
he should be treated close to the front
because, if he is sent home,
he would do poorly
and seldom return to battle.


Experts are remembering and forgetting
remembering and forgetting,
never listening, never creating a lasting narrative –
no boot print to follow
out of this man-made muck.

The subtle pressures of killing
and more killing,
the tours in foreign countries,
the time spent stacking filler
for the catacombs they’re sightseeing –
overlooking that war travels home as well.

Our soldiers are holding
their machine gun minds
with flintlock hearts.
They are holding in
the stress for all of us.
[NOTE: Found poem drawn from: “When Soldiers Snap,” New York Times article, by Erica Goode, published 11-7-2009.]



Justin Barisich is a rising son of New Orleans, the half-Croatian middle child of a commercial fisherman, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, a freelancer, a satirist, a poet, and a performer. His poetry has been influenced by a various spoken word artists and, more recently, by W.H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Philip Levine, and Tyehimba Jess. Justin is forever learning from his writing – both about himself and about others. He hopes that you do too.