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Moral Injury: It's a relatively new field that centers on that when individuals witness moral horrors, or themselves do bad things with serious consequences, the experiences can be ruinous of their character. One's moral sense of right and wrong is destroyed or disabled. It is often related to PTSD, but is not the same thing; and most agree it's not a disorder. But it can be ruinous. Morally-injured people are often embittered, demoralized, and disoriented in regard to their sense of right and wrong. First associated with combat veterans, it has since been applied to health care providers, first responders, law enforcement, child protection workers, and others who often see the worst of human behavior. Chaplains, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, ministers, and many others are working with morally injured people in various settings. Groups of veterans are helping each other in support groups. 

I put out a call for poems on moral injury as part of a certification process in this area, and the result is this special issue of Right Hand Pointing. Some of this work is by experienced poets, some by beginners. It is co-edited by two of our regular editors, acclaimed poet Bill McCloud, a veteran of Vietnam, and Ina Roy-Faderman, educated at Stanford (MD) and UCBerkeley (PhD), who supports her poetry habit by teaching biomedical ethics and philosophy of science and who has done work in the field of moral injury. For this issue, we've suspended our usual rules not to include work by the editors. I thank my two friends.

Special thanks to poet Andrew Hudgins, who allowed us to include here his poem, "At Chancellorsville," from his book After the Lost War: A Narrative, which I have deeply admired for more than 30 years. 


Thank you for reading.     



Andrew Hudgins

At Chancellorsville

He was an Indiana corporal

shot in the thigh when their line broke

in animal disarray. He'd crawled

into the shade and bled to death.

My uniform was shabby with

continuous wear, worn down to threads

by the inside friction of my flesh on cloth.

The armpit seams were rotted through

and almost half the buttons had dropped off.

My brother said I should remove

the Yank's clean shirt: "From now on, Sid,

he'll have no use for it." Imagining

the slack flesh shifting underneath

my hands, the other-person stink

of that man's shirt, so newly his,

I cursed Clifford from his eyeballs to

his feet. I'd never talked that way before

and didn't know I could. When we returned,

someone had beat me to the shirt.

So I had compromised my soul

for nothing I would want to use—

some knowledge I could do without.

Clifford, thank God, just laughed. It was good

stout wool, unmarked by blood.

By autumn, we wore so much blue

we could have passed for New York infantry.

*from After the Lost War: A Narrative (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), by kind permission from the author.

Lorna Wood

A Legionnaire Reflects After the Battle of Mons Graupius, 84 CE

. . . an awful silence reigned on every hand; the hills were deserted, houses smoking in the distance, and our scouts did not meet a soul.

—Tacitus, Agricola

Stabbing and thrusting in our legions,
outnumbered two to one,

we were pushing the savagery out of ourselves,
as well as the land and its people,

so that later we could fill
the empty waste with civilization.

When, in fear of us, the Caledonians set fire
to their own thatch and killed their own families,

glory was written in the flames.
Now it is only a trace against the sky.

The clean grass, the clear blue
after the last wisps dissipate—

these are not fresh pages awaiting good Latin
but our own uncertain emptiness

writ large, not exorcised. We stand
awed by our powers. We tell ourselves

we honor the dead,
but secretly we despair.

Dale Wisely

Enhanced Interrogation*

Engaging in torture damages
the torturer because
the dehumanization process
is self-corrupting.

—Larry D. Miller

“Every morning,” he said,
“when I shave, I imagine myself
shaving off the animal part of me.
It’s how I feel human again.
That’s why you’ll never see me
with stubble.”


*based on a story told by Eli Dowell

Harvey Schwartz

The Hard Stuff Is the Easy Stuff

My latte life light as foam

sunny day my favorite trail.
turns to coffee grounds with just one look
at an effigy that limps toward me 
a muted message of familiarity.
Turning wheels shopping cart gravel and dirt.
His empty-planet eyes pull me in like gravity.
And his cavernous face drops me in the pit
of a story he hasn’t told that I somehow know.

He’s Dave, let’s say. His fall was hard
like the booze he used when he used to care.
But clouds of drugs were a cushion to him
as he floated off too easy. And since then
nothing is easy for Dave.

His life is full: blood-soaked wounds

machine gun blasts napalm gusts ‘copter blades.
Dave found out that the hard stuff is the easy stuff.
Now, nothing is easy for Dave.

Who flew to Vietnam

like a strong proud goose

in a V-shaped flock.
Victory eluded him

and vice took its place.
Now, a vise grips his head

since he woke up hung-over

to see, that he had been used.
So he used. And no one told him
that he would find,
the hard stuff was the easy stuff.

Now, nothing is easy for Dave.

Who can’t fly away that way.
He can’t pay the fare or just doesn’t care.
I look aside afraid of his eyes
I don’t want to see them
mirroring me.

He who had fought

what some thought that I ought.
And my tennis shoes morph

into combat boots as I march into a fog

where nothing is easy.

Vera Kewes Salter

Things My Husband Told Me*

When college fell apart I returned
my burgundy Mustang and joined the Marines.

I was in my new uniform when a friend called
to me in horror as I crossed a San Francisco street.

We marched through the City of Hue before
it was destroyed and returned through the rubble.

I loved hearing Dionne Warwick as she
blasted over loudspeakers.

I jumped out of my well-dug foxhole
when an armadillo jumped in.

I felt warm as a baby in the arms
of the corpsman who carried me out with malaria.

We loaded body bags from the Forrestal fire
onto our hospital ship; there were more dead than they said.

They did not want black leaders but had
no choice after so many soldiers were killed.

The commander sat on the hillside as my
squad led this large Tet Offensive operation.

I told the radio man to go to the back but he said
I'm coming for you and slumped dead over my body.

Airlifted to a field hospital under gunfire I saw
a soldier strangle a wounded prisoner.

At home I discarded my uniform and almost
joined the Weather Underground but married instead.

*Originally published in Persimmon Tree.

Arvilla Fee

All Is Fair

He didn’t ask for this—this land war;
nor did his father, his grandfather, or
his grandfather’s father,
and yet—the scream of rockets,
plumes of fire and acrid smoke are as much
a part of his home as olive trees and ravens.
He thinks about his ancestors as he slinks
through a narrow alley beneath a bleak,
mid-waning moon and wonders how many
before him have cut down the same dark streets,
careful to avoid the bodies of the uncollected,
careful to remain unseen by prying eyes
as wildly desperate as his own.
Looking over his shoulder, he inches himself
towards a building, which, by some kind fate,
has remained standing—and within its limestone
walls lies something far more precious than gold,
a gift he will give to his children so he can soften
the hollow points of their cheeks.
He places three loaves of bread within the folds
of his overcoat and whispers, God forgive me
before closing the broken door.

Bill McCloud


Just before I killed him
I saw his eyes
Then blood was running between them
and he stumbled
and fell to his knees
and it was over
He lay on his back
and still his eyes were open
I checked his pockets
and found only a snapshot
of a beautiful child
with shining eyes
A younger replica
of the man who lay before me
I dropped my gun
and replaced the photo
buttoning back the pocket
I sat beside the body
until Harper came up and said, “Let’s go”
I said, “Go ahead
I’ll follow”
but I knew I wouldn’t
I began digging in the ground
and worked
and sweated more than an hour
then rolled the body into the hole
and followed it with my gun
I filled it back
and sat beneath a tree a few feet away

Bill McCloud

Slow Motion*

Once I put my fist
through a window
for no reason at all

and watched the
glass breaking
in slow motion

*Both poems are from Bill's book The Smell of the Light: Vietnam, 1968-1969

F. J. Bergmann

Guardian Demon*

If you elicit true candor (which can
be done in many ways, like sharing
a six-pack, a fifth, or maybe even
brownies with a special ingredient),
you’ll find that pretty much everybody
has a beef: some secret grudge or sense
of injury (using the term “sense” loosely),
something about which, with the right
sequence of nods and grunts, muttered
agreement, judicious use of the words
Grandpop used for the kind of people
he disliked without knowing anything
about, you can get them to start being
more outspoken, to meet up with others
like them, to talk a lot about the kind
of guns they own—like throwing a stone
into a pond, to create circular ripples
you can watch spread out, for fun.

*First appeared in One Sentence Poems (2017)

F. J. Bergmann


The uniformed security guard said he couldn’t help it,
couldn’t change anything;
he was just there to see that the eviction went smoothly,
which it didn’t.
You’d think they could have waited till after Christmas.
Somehow the kid had managed
to save enough from his subsidized job to buy presents,
if not pay rent.
He’d even tried to wrap them.
He didn’t know how to fight it
and his social worker was on extended vacation.
All his damaged life
had been planned by others around his circumstances,
beyond his control.
And when he saw all ruined by the whirlwind
sweeping through his story,
he let it take hold of him too
and opened the window and began
throwing his gifts into the street,
where passersby picked them up
and walked away with them.
It was that kind of neighborhood.
As he flung them he was shouting,
“that one was for my mother,
that one was for my sister, that one …”
And throwing them out the window,
that was for himself.

*First appeared in Pemmican November 2009

F. J. Bergmann

To the Victims*

You, the ones who, captured, face to face with death,
knelt to kiss the ground or spat through your last breath,
your torturers, your killers, still concealed,
remember damage done or harmed heart healed:
the knowledge that in their midnight’s ascendant hour
they chose to do these things, to use this kind of power.
We vote or abstain: no reason to believe or doubt;
no signposts mark the dangerous, descending route.
To crush all opposition; to force through schemes:
that’s the stuff of evil, bloody dreams,
metalled with chrome-plate hate and driven
by the corroded engine of religion.
The clouds press down; the winds grow stronger;
we’ve all seen better days, and longer.
Now the last leaf of love falls in a black November
and is burned, and no one is left to remember.
There was a chance: we made our choices;
there will be other years and other voices.
Leaching into groundwater or suspended in smoke,
you might be anywhere:
your chemical signatures imprint a billion volumes of air.


*First appeared on 2003

Heidi Slettedahl

Lavender Burned Black

We burned it, my sister and I
that note you wrote on lavender paper.
The lavender burned black and fell apart.

You slapped me when you saw
the purple black ashes
but I was numb to the tingle and neither of us cried.

Oh mother, mother, I don’t want to know
of wrinkled sheets and whispered conversations
and feel the pain of trying not to love you.

But I will not forgive the evenings
you were gone, the days
my father spent in anger, mending the cracks

in the house’s foundation
pounding the nails into soft, pliant wood
drinking warm beer

while you cooked dinner in tense, frustrated silence
we all ignored
until your anger flashed and caught me with your tongue.

You taught me lessons even in your silence,
the dance of avoidance, the masquerade.
The anger

lingers in that house you left.
It sits in the corners with the heavy dust,
A guest we don’t dare disturb.

The anger follows you,
reminds you of the ashes of your love letter
and the daughters who burned the words you wrote.

Its tendrils grasp for me
as I realize my handwriting mirrors yours.
Oh how the anger flashes when I see I write those letters too.

Don Krieger

For No Reason*

The right carotid,
a vascular case
with stroke risk
so I am here.

For no reason


her heart stops,
her brain too.


I know You from Your
world and Scripture.

You drowned everything
when You repented

the brutal world You had
made. You murdered

Lot’s wife
for remembering

her city
as You burned it down.

What's her crit?
When it comes back low,
Where's the hemorrhage?

He cracks her sternum,
closed heart massage
minute after minute
no rhythm or hope.

You glorified Moses
who lay in wait
to murder.

You hardened Pharaoh’s heart
to alibi your slaughter
Egypt’s first-born to the last

When I take over
the bone edges
grind under my hands

her pliant heart beneath
soft and silent

but then living

pushing back.

Time after time
You boasted I do this
so you know how mighty I am.

Half her brain returned.
They gave blood
placed a pacer
and an assist pump

got her off the table alive
but no further.

How can I find You
righteous and trustworthy,
love You or even
fear and obey You –

it’s a hundred generations
since You’ve spoken.

Since then that surgeon turned
to cosmetics, varicose veins,
I work with numbers
they don’t push back
or need reasons.

* originally appeared in The Red Wheelbarrow.

Don Krieger

Saturday Night on Call*

A sheriff guards the operating room. Inside
we fight. Her neck was broken in a brawl –

she thrashes and spits as we hold her shoulders
and head still, work to realign the bones

constantly checking, dreading the worst,
blunt silence, slack body. Hours later

with neck straight, flipped on her belly,
moving arms and legs before she sleeps,

I step out for a breath. The surgeon
is at the scrub sink, She'll just kill someone else.

That may be, I say, but we won't have killed her.

It's been decades. I still dread and hope for her
and I treasure the stubborn skill of that surgeon.

* originally appeared in Neurology.

Don Krieger

Dream Street*

I left her the house
and got a place on Torley.
Each night the neighbors

put chairs on the sidewalk,
turn the TV face out, drink Iron City
and watch the kids play in the street.

I get home from work at 6 or 10
or 2, shower and then sleep
with eyes open:

a child shrieking on a hospital gurney,
her spine flayed and straightened,
the smell of burning in my hair,

a new mother life-flighted from the mall,
brain shifting in the scanner,
crushed by bleeding while we watch.

We drink coffee and wait
while a father facing doom in our hands
says goodbye to his children.

Each day I pedal in over the Bloomfield Bridge,
or drive when called at night, never dreaming
what will come next.

* originally appeared in Verse-Virtual.

Don Krieger

Battle Fatigue*

The surgeon carves, dissects, sears the bleeding.
The anesthetist: numbness, paralysis, stupor.

My part: to hear and report
each limb's electric murmurs,


the brain's muffled replies,
mixed with the whine


of machines, arrogance, fear.
We fight for normal life on waking.


We trust normal will return for us.


They are out there, our charges,
ten thousand who woke well,


those who did not. I don't recall
their faces, just the smell


of blood and burning,
the urgent charge, uphold life,


sick wonder when the lamp goes dark,
why did I have to see that?

*originally appeared in Neurology.

jim kacian

black tuesday*

and the following week my various inboxes are filled with earnest notes asking after my safety and that of my family—I come to realize that I am, in a modest way, the face of America to these many and far-flung people, and what happens to America must happen to me—and I respond that I am unharmed for the moment by the terrible assault which has galvanized us all, but that it will be a long time in coming before we know the full extent of the damage that has been caused . . .


after the tragedy—
the neighbor boy behind a tree
with his toy rifle

*appeared previously in ephemerae

Luther Allen 

the strayed moon

has lost its way. forgets
where to rise and set.

bulging, bulimic. confusing
concave with convex. bangs

on drums to make an entrance
and whimpers as it goes down.

neglects the sun, becomes grey.
can’t manage to shine that old kind light

                                         upon the earth.

wait. that’s not the moon.
it’s us.     us.

Michael J. Galko

Regarding the half-eaten calves
of midshipman Purvis
off the Brazilian equator, 1812

A fortnight
since fire consumed the ship
in the mid-Atlantic.
Ten days since the last rain.

The launch started with twelve.
One jumped overboard
with his madness, certain
he could swim it.

The next three
were hoisted over
with all due respect
and ceremony.

A fourth of these
sank two days ago.
Then, yesterday,
Purvis passed.

But his body rested astern
by silent assent.
What seaman
has not regarded,

with longing even,
the fine tan legs
of his fellow sailors?
But these bloated shanks?

Whose idea was this–
this blasphemy
against the vaulted
primacy of the soul–

this heretical notion
that the dead’s flesh
will somehow serve them
after their death?

Some few, their eyes
red and scarce by day,
have considered this
by the moonless night.

Nate Didier


We were just trying to kill each other, and beside you I now sit.
I am exhausted.
You are full of holes...
...from the rounds I put in your chest.
Your breathing is getting shallow, you don’t have much time. I will never know your name.
I wonder if you have a family you won’t see again.
I have a daughter I haven’t met.
Your eyes get heavy. I wonder how you’d treat me if our situation was reversed.
I wouldn’t want to be alone.
So here I sit, shooing the flies aways as you take your last breath.

Desmond Piper

When I Was Young

Any decent thinking man knows

that when he passes the ammunition...

he is participating in the killing also.”

                                    -Larry Dewy


When I was young

I imagined justice would taste sweet.

Like a righteous knight satisfied

to combat ubiquitous evil.

But I’ve never met such a warrior,

nor such justice, rarely such evil.

Justice is a bitter Merlot, 

or Sumatra. An aged Bourbon.

Fragile recipes fraught with risk,

borne of ancient, intricate processes.

One small variance, 

the batch is intractably tainted.


From tax payer to sniper

we have blood on our hands.

Some righteous, some collateral.

We so easily become what we have vowed

to destroy. Yet destroy it, we must.

Bitter justice requires impossible accuracy.

The exact recipe has been lost to humanity.

Maybe we only briefly had it, traded it 

for a forbidden flavor so long ago.

Maybe the righteous knight is a myth. 

Maybe he wrote poems in the evening 

trying to make sense of his day job.


As a child I would steal a sip 

of my dad’s coffee,

but preferring simplistic sweetness, 

my innocent taste buds grimaced. 

Every now and then I reminiscently indulge

the blissful ignorance of Halloween candy.

Now middle-aged, I’m more satisfied 

with a morning cup of black coffee. 

Or with dinner, a red wine. 

The naive shock metamorphosed

into provocative contemplation.

I’ve spread my wings.

I’d never go back, even if I could.


The tongue inside my graying head

prefers bourbon over ice cream.

The burn reminds me I’m still alive,

the smoothness teases that maybe

I still deserve pleasure.

Conflicting sensations generated 

from a single event.

Pride and shame

Regret and anticipation

Humor and horror

You’ll never experience that

in a jelly bean.


Merlot. Sumatra. Bourbon.

Adult flavors for an adult world.

My burdened mind and slight bulge 

between L4 and L5 seldom consent 

to a full night’s sleep.

Having wrestled with Power greater than 

myself, I’ve earned my limp

and been rewarded with knowledge

of precarious joy, mysteriously

laced within the harsh and bitter

flavors of real life.

William Cullen Jr.

Restorative Justice

I sin.

I atone.

We hug.


Luther Allen facilitates SpeakEasy, a community reading series, and is co-editor of Noisy Water. His book The View from Lummi Island can be found at His work is included in the recent anthologies For the Love of Orcas; Washington Poetic Routes; The Madrona Project – Human Communities in Wild Places; and New Mexico Poetry Anthology 2023.

F. J. Bergmann is the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change ( She lives in Wisconsin and fantasizes about tragedies on or near exoplanets. Her work has appeared in Abyss & Apex, Analog, Asimov’s SF, and elsewhere in the alphabet. She thinks imagination can compensate for anything. 

William Cullen Jr. is a veteran and works at a social services non-profit in Brooklyn, NY. His poetry has recently appeared in Hobart, Modern Haiku and Slipstream. Bill has published previously in various Ambidextrous Bloodhound Press publications, including Right Hand Pointing.


Nate Didier was an Infantryman with C. Co. 1-133rd IN, 2/34th BCT deployed to COP Kalagush, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan 2010-2011. He also deployed to Kosovo 2007-2008. He resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa with his family. He enjoys outdoor activities, reading, spending time with his kids, and helping the local veteran community.


Arvilla Fee teaches English Composition for Clark State College and is the poetry editor for the San Antonio Review. She has published poetry, photography, and short stories in numerous presses, and her poetry book The Human Side is available on Amazon. For Arvilla, writing produces the greatest joy when it connects us to each other.

Michael J. Galko is a scientist and poet from Houston, Texas. Both his science and his poetry examine wound healing and pain, using different methodologies. He is the artist and poet responsible for Haiku House, a residential art installation in Houston. He is occasionally published in the scientific and literary spheres.

Andrew Hudgins is the author of several books of poems, including Saints and Strangers, The Glass Hammer, After the Lost War: A Narrative, and Ecstatic in the Poison. A finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, he is a recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships as well as the Harper Lee Award. He is a professor emeritus of Ohio State University.

Don Krieger is a biomedical researcher whose focus is the electric activity within the brain. Don is author of the hybrid collections Discovery (Cyberwit, 2020) and When Danger Is Past, Who Remembers? (Milk and Cake Press, 2022), a 2020 Pushcart nominee, and a 2020 Creative Nonfiction Foundation Science-as-Story Fellow. Don's work has appeared in Seneca Review, The Asahi Shimbun, Beltway Quarterly, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, American Journal of Nursing, Neurology, and others, and has been translated into Farsi, Greek, Italian, German, Turkish, Romanian, and Portuguese.

jim kacian ( is founder and chairperson of the board of The Haiku Foundation (; founder and owner of Red Moon Press (; editor-in-chief of Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton, 2013); author of a score of books of haiku and editor/publisher of hundreds more. He lives with his partner of 35 years, Maureen Gorman, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Bill McCloud is one of the poetry editors for Right Hand Pointing. He is the poetry reviewer for Vietnam Veterans of America. His poetry is studied at the Air Force Academy and the University of Tulsa. His poetry book, The Smell of the Light: Vietnam, 1968-1969 (Balkan Press) reached #1 on The Oklahoman's "Oklahoma Bestsellers" List.

Desmond Piper is the pseudonym of a military chaplain who is currently completing a course to be certified in the area of moral injury.

Vera Kewes Salter is a care partner for her husband of fifty years who lives with a diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia. They live in in New Rochelle, New York. Her work has appeared in Right Hand Pointing, Nixes Mate Review, Red Eft Review, Prometheus Dreaming and other publications. Her chapbook titled In Lewy's Body is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2024.

Harvey Schwartz learned Americana growing up on the east coast. He unlearned it at Woodstock, a hippie commune, and by extensive hitchhiking. A chiropractic career offered another perspective. He’s been published in The Sun, Clover, Whatcom Writes, Jeopardy, and Cirque among others. He won second place in Writer’s Digest’s Eighty-Eighth Annual Rhyming Poetry contest in 2019. Bellingham Repertory Dance and Snowdance Film Festival have featured his work. His story of starting college writing classes was published in the Newsweek "My Turn" on 1-23-23.

Heidi Slettedahl is a poet who would like to live up to her potential now that she is over 50. In real life she is an academic who goes by a slightly different name. She has been published in a variety of literary journals. Her most unusual talent is being able to ride a unicycle.

Dale Wisely runs Ambidextrous Bloodhound Press, which publishes this journal. He has been a psychologist for 40 years and also works at a large church He is studying Moral Injury through the Shay Moral Injury Center.

Describing Lorna Wood's debut collection, The Great Garbage Patch (Alien Buddha Press), Andrew Taylor, of Nottingham Trent University, says, "She writes with a passion seldom on offer in modern poetry. . .Lorna Wood is fast becoming one of my favourite poets." A featured poet in the erbacce-prize contest, Lorna has published poetry in the US, the UK, South Africa, India, and Australia. She has also published fiction, creative nonfiction, and scholarly essays. Find out more at

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