The heat of the gown that boiled off a portion of your spirit with every step,
That sickly smell of wet ash that reeked from the masks,
And the haunting cadence of laboured breathing interspersed with muffled speech,
As you teetered somewhere along fear and hypoxia,
And vacillated between sprints of survival and spent stupor,
Since seared into every sulcus and fissure of your brain permanently.
There were no blows to parry, no bullets to dodge,
Much less an enemy to capture or slay.
It was a war of attrition as we clung to our calling,
And also to our caps, goggles and masks,
In silent desperation; amid the sick and the fallen,
We who remained were just thankful to have lived yet another day.
There are wounds that heal and wounds that scar,
And then there are those demons that visit you on nights so dark,
There are no shadows and no screams.
Memories laid bare, still raw and wrenching,
They bleed every vessel and rape every nerve,
Just as they always do, year after year.
*in memory of Alex Chao, who died 10 years ago this day