Small Wars Journal

The Thousand Yard Stare

The Thousand Yard Stare

Keith Nightingale

A dubious badge of honor, less for skill than experience.

Hard won, but never desired.

Awarded with the greatest of merit and impossible to refuse.

A reflection of youth quickly growing old in seconds—repetitively.

Self-awarded, but never self-regarded.

Nature’s cover for exposure to human inhumanity to other humankind.

A badge of courage for carrying on.

Externally cosmetic. Internally, viscerally real and lasting.

The eyes adjust, but the mind does not.

They keep coming. They keep coming. They keep coming.

Loading. Firing. Loading. Firing. Loading. Firing. Loading. Firing.

Parts and pieces of my partner.

Sounds of impact. Distinct. Falling. Spewing. Screaming. Not me. Press on.

Shadows. Shadows. Moving. Always moving. Stay awake. Always

How long is the night? When will I see day? Will I?

The world in green. Will I see gold?

Tomorrow? Just the next moment. Please. Repeat.

Up the stairs. In the room. What is there? Kill it. Repeat. Repeat.

Climb. Climb. Climb. Up there. Rarely down there.

Died in your arms. They die in your arms.

Dead. Move on. Always move on.

How do I write to them? Don’t. Happy days. Happy, happy days. Smile in similes.

Vaporized vehicle. Parts and pieces. Gender neutral. Move on. Move on.

Rain. Cold. Heat. Always. Ignore. Drive on.

Exhaustion has no limits. I know. For now.

No falter. No fail. Others need me. Press on.

Everything hurts. Nothing hurts. It’s mental.

Ignore the obvious. Hide it. It doesn’t exist. Press on.

Mind in neutral. Crucial skill. No mind, no worry. Press on.

Kids. Why kids?

Dirt looks disturbed. What is under? Death in the dirt? Step clear.

All the dirt, all the time. There is nothing but dirt. Mind in neutral.

What happens, happens. Ignore reality. Press on.

Here they come. Now. Later. Tomorrow.

Next hill. Next house. Next tree. Just across the ditch. Careful.

How long will I be careful?

Back to back. Load and listen. Backs have no faces. Good thing.

Blood is sticky. Blood smells. Blood is everywhere. Detach. Detach.

It looks so beautiful. It can be so deadly. Watch. Watch.

What is coming? What is ever coming? Don’t think. Press on.

What is, is. No worries. Just now. Just today.

Brain bank of mental reserves is draining. Everyone has a balance.


The eyes have it.