Dana (Dusty) Shuster


Dusty Shuster served in Vietnam as a member of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, from 1966 to 1968.¬† The poems presented here are from her award winning chapbook: Battle Dressing: Poems about the Journey of a Nurse in Vietnam, produced by the Writer's†League Press.You can read more of Dusty's work at† www.illyria.com.




Day Shift


Mellow in morphine, he smiles and floats

above the stretcher over which I hover.

I snip an annular ligament

and his foot plops unnoticed into the pail,

superfluous as a placenta after labor has ended.

His day was just starting when his hooch disappeared,

along with the foot and at least one friend.

Absently I brush his face,

inspecting, investigating,

validating data gathered by sight and intuition,

willing physical contact to fetter soul to earth.


"You're the first white woman ever to touch me."


Too late my heart dodges and weaves, evades the inevitable.

Ambushed again.

Damn, I'm in love.

Bonded forever by professional intimacies,

unwitting disclosures offered and accepted,

fulfilling a covenant sealed in our chromosomes,

an encounter ephemeral as fireflies on a hot Georgia night

in a place and time too terrible to be real.

But it will shoot flaming tracers through all my dreams

until the time my soul, too, floats unfettered.


When daylight waxes and morphine wanes,

when pain crowds his brain

and phantasms of his footless future bleach the bones of present

our moment together will fade as a fever dream

misty, gossamer, melting from make-believe

through might-have-been

past probably-didn't

all the way into never happen, man--

as I move on to the next stretcher

and the next fleeting lover--
©1991 by Dusty
†Originally appeared in Visions of War, Dreams of Peace, Warner Books, 1991.
†Eds. Lynda Van Devanter and Joan Furey.


Off Duty


Saturday night

Oldies night


Letter-writing night

Toenail-painting night

Fantasy-spinning night


Watching the geckoes

dancing across the wall

like-poled magnets

maintaining measured distance

Buddy Holly and

bubble-gum rock

recall high school and home


Rainy season mildews

smells like Houston

Rain on the roof

at 80 drops per minute

like lacerated Ringer's

Clear and steady

unlike me


Silence shattered

by artillery boys

across the road

playing with guns

No dates tonight

for these teen warriors

firing H&I


Harassment and interdiction--

harassing only my rest

interdicting only my dreams


I turn up the radio

and prey or peace

12th Evac


The hands remember what the mind evades:

death's quiet chill creeping from toes toward the heart

the crepitation of pneumothorax

skin becomes pebbly where blasted with shrapnel

the tentative fluttering of terminal shock


The nightmares remember what the hands forget:

blowflies feasting on clotted bandages

the pounding of Hueys counting cadence for pulses

boots sliding and sticking in gore on the floor

the stormy tint of blasted bone

ranks of IV bottles clanking in chorus

temple bells of mindfulness standing as sentinels

vigilant against the next crimson monsoon


The soul remembers what the heart disavows:

being mortally wounded by each soldier who died.
©1995 by Dusty†

First appeared in INCOMING!, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Island Poets, 1995.†
Ed. Barbara Menghini Whitmarsh†

Boy's Club


Stay out of our tree house! No girls allowed!

young males of the species with simian proclivities

seeking to exclude the secret places and passwords

seeking to define by codes and handshakes

measuring peepees they fancy as peckers.


Well this ole girl is crashing your club

Cause I share your secret passwords and places:

didi mau and dinky dau, KIA and NVA

Ripcord and Phu Bai, Ann-Margret and Chu Lai

Nuoc mam and freedom birds and don't mean nuthin.


I am boocoo tired and have titi patience

with your REMFing No Girls Allowed

You will let me in because you well know

I've lived in your jungle

I've climbed your tree

We both know you can't bullshit me.†
©1995 by Dusty
†First appeared in INCOMING!, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Island Poets, 1995.
†Ed. Barbara Menghini Whitmarsh††



They must have told her just as

my feet rounded the corner.

The wail broke my stride and my concentration

as I scooted through the ICU

toward my trivial destination

(I think is was Dietary)

as her world shattered,

as the soul of her most beloved

slithered through oscillations of her scream.


Back in 1968

they dies in dustoffs

or on stretchers in the R&E

they died on operating tables

or in post-op ICU

they died amid our hurried silence

they died

and died

and we never



©1996 by Dusty
Originally appeared in INCOMING!, Vol. I, Issue III. Hawk's Nest Publishing, 1996
. Ed. Barbara Menghini Whitmarsh.†

Losing It


Spending time with Heddy and Eleanor

(they sit high up on panel 31E),

oblivious of the swirling tourists,

I slither through time to a warmer place

where lives were new and faces fresh,

where hopes yet lived and ghosts did not.


The lissome figure and dancing eyes

of the uniformed child suddenly beside me

break my heart as she diffidently requests

the honor of my presence--

me, already a veteran before she was born,

a rusting relic wrinkled and fading,

the war lingering on me like yesterday's garlic:

in front of the women's statue

be so thrilled

mean so much if you

Veterans Day and all.


I'm too cowardly to shout Stop! You don;t know!

and too civilized to refuse:

like loosing her virginity, she'll do it anyway.

My vintage fatigues bear witness

as the major intones the oath:

Duty, Constitution of America.
But my heart counts a different cadence

learned on all-too-active duty

Watch out girlie, don't get stung;

Army Nurses Corps eats her young.


Hair neatly braided, uniform creaseless,

carriage prideful, the ANC's newest officer

receives her first salute,

along with and old nurse's fervent prayer--

Dear Lt. Altman, my wish for you

this Veterans Day--

may you never, ever have

any war stories to tell.
©1996 by Dusty
†Originally appeared in INCOMING!, Vol. I, Issue III. Hawk's Nest Publishing, 1996. Ed. Barbara Menghini Whitmarsh.



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