We were smoking some of this knockout weed when Operation Memory was announced. To his separate bed Each soldier went, counting backwards from a hundred With a needle in his arm. And there I was, in the middle Of a recession, in the middle of a strange city, between jobs And apartments and wives. Nobody told me the gun was loaded. We'd been drinking since early afternoon. I was loaded. The doctor made me recite my name, rank, and serial number when I woke up, sweating, in my civvies. All my friends had jobs As professional liars, and most had partners who were good in bed. What did I have? Just this feeling of always being in the middle Of things, and the luck of looking younger than fifty. At dawn I returned to draft headquarters. I was eighteen And counting backwards. The interviewer asked one loaded Question after another, such as why I often read the middle Of novels, ignoring their beginnings and their ends. when Had I decided to volunteer for intelligence work? "In bed With a broad," I answered, with locker-room bravado. The truth was, jobs Were scarce, and working on Operation Memory was better than no job At all. Unamused, the judge looked at his watch. It was 1970 By the time he spoke. Recommending clemency, he ordered me to go to bed At noon and practice my disappearing act. Someone must have loaded The harmless gun on the wall in Act I when I was asleep. And there I was, without an alibi, in the middle Of a journey down nameless, snow-covered streets, in the middle Of a mystery--or a muddle. These were the jobs That saved men's souls, or so I was told, but when The orphans assembled for their annual reunion, ten Years later, on the playing fields of Eton, each unloaded A kit bag full of troubles, and smiled bravely, and went to bed. Thanks to Operation Memory, each of us woke up in a different bed Or coffin, with a different partner beside him, in the middle Of a war that had never been declared. No one had time to load His weapon or see to any of the dozen essential jobs Preceding combat duty. And there I was, dodging bullets, merely one In a million whose lucky number had come up. When It happened, I was asleep in bed, and when I woke up, It was over: I was 38, on the brink of middle age, A succession of stupid jobs behind me, a loaded gun on my lap.
From Operation Memory, published by Princeton University Press. Copyright © David Lehman, 1990. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.