It was the nickname for an unknown soldier:
a lanky weathered fellow. The bullseye brunt
of every tapered object to imbed a semi-thick hide.
Nomadic, shabby, roving — a vagrant dartboard,
his service forgotten, I.D. tags no longer valid.
Bristling, a man-of-war hero, his cap waved
a drugstore remnant, a little flag on a stick,
like a kid at the Veterans’ Parade.
Boots marched to no drum, hiking aimless,
ghosting endless strands of highway. A phantom,
decorated by consolation medals. Clad in the ruins
of a tattered Infantry uniform replaced on a regular basis
from military surplus stores; fabric shredded by perforations,
the marks of unslung arbitrary shafts, ferrous points
within range of his random involuntary attraction.
Some sort of metallurgic or allergic reaction.
A preternatural condition.
He had been an ordinary tank engineer, drafted to
huddle in the belly of a souped-up combat machine
until a W.M.D. exploded, a massive destructive weapon
created for havoc, lighting the firmament and desert floor.
Turquoise and lavender, it was a phenomenon, the prettiest
sight he ever glimpsed, and the most perilous — raw sky
exposed, the heavens revealed; a Bell Jar dome,
trapping him for all time in its vacuum.
With a loud abrupt twinkling, a deafening flash
and cacophonous wrench, driver and Gunny
just vanished — torn away by a lingering detonation,
like opening a can. The ultimate missile and betrayal,
named Zed, it surpassed the A-Bomb and every letter
between. A Grand Guignol display of fireworks.
A patriotic show-stopping, heart-rending, gut-lurching,
conflict-ending moment of glory. Ironically
launched by his side, his own comrades in arms!
Repercussions stretched wide and far. Caught in
the radius, the immediate circumference of the blast,
expendable grunts like him were unintentional costs
like civilians. Part of the unfortunate losses incurred.
Faceless statistics in reports to commanders;
in telegrams and letters to families as torn, as forlorn
as the victims. Grim, harsh, real consequences
of Politicians and War.
Shell-shocked, broken deep inside, the shards of a life
scattered, he became something not existing before,
his armored gunship’s hull demolished, its upper half blown off,
a gaping shell. In the heat of that instant, he could not recall why,
for what purpose they had been sent to fight strangers
in a strange land, risk life and limb... These days,
reasons and excuses ran together. As the survivor tumbled,
stumbled to bended knees, spat out by a vacant maw
like a bitter pill, identity no longer mattered.
His original name fled, dispersing while a cloud rained
green and blue, pink and purple, soothing pastel hues that
floated down in shimmering sparkles of fairy dust, absorbed
by dermis, dazzling cells, igniting shivers of cold fire and hot ice
in rigid veins — trickling down his spine, tickling his ivories.
A lightbulb turned on in a cellar dark. He shone.
The standalone reluctant star of a Kindergarten pageant.
A conspicuous glowfish in a black sea.
The spectacular mishap warped DNA, altered
his young still-in-progress unfinished rough draft
composition to reflect a negative force field,
molecular science gone wrong; a front-and-backstabbing
gravitationally prone side effect that drew all manner
of needles flying. Puncturing vibrant skin. Jabbing, lancing,
riddling sensitive flesh, a reclusive spirit full of
steel and lead. He took it standing, unflinching and brave.
A trouper. A genuine tin soldier.
Though in truth he had no choice, for it happened
without consent. A battery. A profusion. A blitzkrieg.
Waves of tines and daggers. Arrows, spikes and bolts.
Barrages of alloys. By storm or piecemeal, in firing-squad
knife-throwing fusillades, piercing his body like a pincushion
of biomagnetic need. Call it compulsion, a fever-pitch
demand, a peculiar taste for sharp things, and they for him...
a walking bed of nails, prickly with disarray.
Pin felt nothing on good days, numb as a post.
Yet on the worst, the mutant enigma suffered each blow,
residing in torment. A weirdo destined for agony or apathy,
aloof, set apart, traveling the fringes of civilization.
A life of exile, in caves, away from manmade glitter.
Extracting what bling may still zero in, bandaging his
wounds. Never quite remote enough to feel safe except
in the nethermost internal, subliminal, winding reaches —
the tunnels where his pull was muted, less direct.
Pincushion Jones! whispered those who crossed
his path, sacrificing tools and utensils, untold blades.
Shunned and revered like a circus freak, a human porcupine
or hedgehog, quilled and barbed, the man wept without
restraint, unashamed, alone in his misery. Friends,
brief companions must surely die.
No defense from hurling instruments of doom.
A hail of loose shrapnel.
A stray bullet. A volley of airborne prongs.
Even head to toe plated, enclosed, concealed
in a protective suit. No measure could guarantee a shard,
a sliver, a pick or stiletto would never penetrate an eye,
the brain, so he kept to himself out of concern for others...
Until a female took pity and refused to let go, presenting
a harness to curb his power. The scientist expired as
the tin man expected. Aura intact, Pincushion mourned her.
Hating the Furies, cursing the Fates, praying a sword might
impale his scar-tissue heart.
The wish was granted.
In a sudden tempest, a lightning rod sailed straight
to gore the grieving chest — unguarded, vulnerable to
attack. A blue streak of electricity descended from clouds
through gray sheets of rain, touching the tip of the
jutting pole, burning Pin to ashes, merciful rust that wafted,
a reminder of the beautiful haze to paint the sky with
Renaissance skill on the day a World War ended.
Whichever it was. They lost track. Too many to count.