Chef’s Second Chance

After Apocalypse Now.

Frederic Forrest as Jay ‘Chef’ Hicks, Apocalypse Now

“Never get out of the boat.”
— Chef, Apocalypse Now

It never sat well that Chef, who endured so much
in the service of a suicide mission, found himself
smuggled as he slept, then sacrificed like a lamb shank—
collateral damage to the apocalyptic designs of Col Kurtz,
exterminating men with the carelessness of cooks, stewing
marbled meat until it sluggishly turns the color of steel pots.

So let’s suppose, in a slightly less insane sort of world,
Chef gets a second chance. Stateside, run through the jungle
and back in his kitchen, taking orders even he can understand.
Ponytail in place, primed gently by grill grease and sweat,
a different cauldron altogether, head counts & tickets clocked
one plate at a time: straight wages for sensible work.

Except something is off: he can’t break away from this place.
Not the job, but that unconquered country and the things he carries.
It couldn’t break his will but it’s slowly sucking on his soul,
his brain boiling with all he saw and can never not see.
The more he scrubs the less he shines (Mistah Clean—he dead).
Darkness stalking his heart, murdered babies beneath his boots.

Too many jobs lost to count, he’s changed but nothing else did.
A survivor but nobody warned him about no shit like this:
His sins can’t be forgiven. Fortunate sons smirk when he stands
at the bus stop, nowhere to go, no way to pay, so of course
cops come when he breaks down inside that bank, not trying
to hurt anyone, there’s no gooks here and the gun’s not even loaded.

(Over there I could empty a clip and get myself a medal;
ain’t this a motherfuck! Five-to-ten for unlawful entry?)

So here you are. Came all this way and you finally get it.
Maybe you should have gotten your ass out of that boat.
The tiger was God trying to tell you a thing or two—too late,
you’ll never know now—or else on a mission of its own:
finding you, afraid but still on your feet, some instinct
sending it up river to put you, at last, out of your misery.