My ten year old son

Is sitting at the kitchen table,

Reading about ISIS.

For homework, he says,

And I am reading over,

Over his shoulder, how

The terrorists are

Taking over,

Taking over,

Land, regions, people,

How they are killing

Thousands of people,

And, how, we are doing


And he is climbing into bed


And if he asks me what,

What an airstrike is,

I will tell him bombs

Or missiles, a direct target,

And how, how

I do not know exactly.

And if he asks me does it explode,

I will take his words and

Hold them in my hands,

And rearrange them,

Before giving, giving them

Back to him, saying yes or

It does explode.

And I know how heavy words are,

The ones we say and the ones we


The weight of war and what

We say about it,

How it lands somewhere,

And breaks apart, leaving

Legs and letters, arms, the

Head of a child, words, and

A wrist, segments

Of sentences and bodies

On the ground, damage,

Collateral damage, and

This child,

My child, here,

Lying next to me,

In his bed, falling

Asleep now, with

My hand stretched

Out, resting across

His forehead, his hair

Line, and how I am

Shielding his eyes,

Shielding his eyes

And face and neck

Like a Kevlar helmet.

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When they ask me if,

If my husband can go

Back to war,

I say yes,

Because he is in the military

And he can always go back,

Back to war,

And I use words like lottery

And involuntary recall and

How we do not want it, how

We do not want it to happen.

But the truth is

My husband is planning a trip


Back to Afghanistan,

Just a week, he says,

Or maybe two,

How it is part of a project

He is working on, and how

No one is making him go.

And when he tells me this,

He is in the kitchen,

His voice stretching

Around walls, because I am

Standing at the end of this,

Our hallway,

The head of it,

Like the mouth

Of a river

That stretches,

Stretches down the length

Of our house and us, how

We are quiet now,

How he is


For me to say something and

How there is nothing, nothing

To say.

But later I do say it,

Because it is on the news and

Because I cannot help myself,

And I wake him up,

Shaking his shoulder,

And I tell him about

The men who were beheaded,

About the two journalists

From America

And a British aid worker,

How it happened in Syria,

Or what happened

In Afghanistan, how

A soldier was killed there,

When terrorists tried,

Tried to behead him,

Stabbing him to death instead,

And how it happened

On Airport Road in Kabul,

And I keep repeating the words

Airport and road, because it is

The same, the same road

My husband used to drive down,

Back then,

When he was at war

And lucky I say,

How he was so lucky

He did not get killed

That time,

And he is getting up now,

Throwing off the sheets

Of this bed and my words,

But I am following him and

Talking about them,

The men killed in Syria,

How they were captured,

Held, like that, as prisoners,



Beheaded, I am saying,


Beheaded by the ISIS

With a knife

As long as a tibia bone

And it was two years I say,

How they held one of them

For two years,

Before killing him, and

I know what scares my husband,

How more than dying,

He is scared of being a prisoner

Of war,

Not dead,

But not allowed to live,

Or how, worse,

Worse, I say,

How the terrorists

Make videos of it,

And how the videos are posted

Online, and their families, I say,

How the pain of the families

Is something

I cannot imagine,

But I try to,

Try to imagine what

It would feel like if it was him,

My husband,

Captured by terrorists,

Beheaded, and gone,

Or if the last image of him was

A photo still right before

They cut off his head,

And I am whispering,


Whispering the words

Our children,

Even though they are asleep,

Our children,

Or how there will be more,

How they are not done, and

My husband,

He is turning around now,

Turning towards me and saying

No, saying stop,

Because it is too much,

How it is all too much.

Tomorrow he will go

Play golf,

His clubs in a bag

Swung over his shoulder

Like a machine gun,

And the course will spread

Out, in front of him,

Green and smooth,

This artificial skin.

And, yes, there are hazards,

Sand traps that are cut out

Of the land,

That dip and pucker like a scar.

But there are no bombs,

No IEDs, hidden in holes,

No explosions or dead

Bodies to carry or move,

And my husband,

He will play golf

And then

He will come home.

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We are driving home,

Passing New York City,

On the right,

Out the car window,

And it is a skyline,

In the sky,

Like a line of teeth,

And my oldest son

Finds it, pointing,

Telling his younger brother,

Saying the Freedom Tower,

How it is rising up,

Into a space I can only remember,

And he is asking me,

Asking me why,

Why they flew the plane into them,

The Twin Towers,

Knocking them down,

And killing all of those people, and

I say I don’t know,

How maybe, maybe

Just to show us they could,

Or how war and belief are


A bloody cord,

How war can start over belief,

And my son is quiet, staring

Into the mouth of this night,

The highway,

A throat,

Because it is hard to believe,

Because he cannot believe,

That war happens like that,

Over what men believe and

What they don’t.

And when we get home,

The house is almost still,

Just one light on,

And barely breathing,

The driveway, a black

And collapsed lung, or

How we stand together,

Here, on the front step,

The three of us,

In this night but

Just for a moment,

Before going inside,

And into our lives.

And the moon is

Swollen and alive.

How it hangs above us,

Above the whole world,

I tell my sons.

And I show them how,

How to stretch their hands,

Out, and open, so it looks like

They are holding it, the moon,

Even though you never can.

And we go inside,

Turning more lights on,

A hallway, the kitchen,

Their bedrooms,

These, our small moons,

Or how I want them to know,

To always know,

That the beautiful things

In this world are like this,

Ours but not.

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Iraq, I tell my husband,

As we stand in our kitchen,

Where he is holding a knife

In his hand and strawberries

In his other hand,

That he grew in the garden

He planted when

He came home from war,

Crossing the lawn like that

In his combat boots, how

He peeled back the grass

Like skin or how the raw

Square of dirt was like a wound,

And I am saying Iraq is falling,

Because one by one,

The cities and towns,

Are falling.

Fallujah and Qaim and Rawa,

Anah and Rutba and Tal Afar,

Sharqat, Hawija, Tikret, and

Suleiman Beg,

How they are falling to terrorists.

And I cannot stop thinking about

How a city or a town or

A country cannot fall.

How it is people, people who fall,

The people who live there, in Iraq,

Shot execution style in the street

Or bombed in their cars or schools

Or houses,

How Iraq is a country of bodies

Falling down dead.

And there are soldiers from America

Who went there to fight, who died

There, or came home only half alive,

Standing in houses and hallways,

Kitchens, in America, with wives,

With children, or no one, saying

I am here,

Even though they feel

Too far gone to ever come home


And all the talk

About whether,

Whether we will go back to Iraq,

Or whether, whether we should

Have ever gone.

And it is morning here when

I find a nest in our backyard.

And I think about how baby birds

Can fall out of the nest,

And I find my husband,

In the garden again,

Where things are growing,

And I am asking him if,

If the baby birds fall out,

Who, who will pick them up,

The dead birds,

Off the grass,

With a shovel,

Their skeletons small and sharp

Like toothpicks.

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The power goes off again

In this condo I am living in

Since my husband left,

Left for war.

And my neighbor comes over,

With a flashlight in his hand,

Saying something about how

A line went down and

Just to check on you.

This neighbor who is a man,

Who I share a wall with and

Nothing else,

Not about the war,

How I am married,

Or how my husband

Is gone.

Because this is what the Army

Tells me to do,

Not to tell anyone, and

Not to draw attention to myself,

Because I am

A woman living alone.

And he asks me where,

Where the electrical box is,

The circuit breaker, he says,

Lifting his hands into the air

And making snapping motions

With his fingers,

To show me,

Saying this is a husband’s job,

As if I do not know

What electricity is or

How a circuit can break,


When there is a surge,

And the power overloads.

But my neighbor does not understand

That when your husband goes to war,

Is gone for fifteen months,

Boots-on-ground in Afghanistan,

You learn about power,

Where the box is,

Hanging on a wall

In your garage, or

How to hold the switches

In your fingers in the dark,

And when he comes home,

How the war will surge

Through your house,

This current of war

You did not expect,

How Afghanistan will surge

Through your body every

Time he touches you and

Every time he doesn’t.

How there will be volts,


The amps of what happened there,

The bodies of men and women and

Children, dead and lying on a road,

How the war will be a live current

In your marriage,

How there will be connections,

When you are lying in bed,

Your legs and his legs

Crossing like wires, or

His arm crossing your chest

Like an ammunition belt,

The disconnections,

When circuits break,

Because the power,

The power of war and what

It does becomes too much,

And your husband turns away,

Turns off, shuts down,

And everything goes dark again.

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Ten years, my husband is saying,

As we put our sons to bed, turn

On the dishwasher, turn it off,

The ceiling light in the kitchen,

Above our heads, and we are

Turning towards one another,

Or turning around corners,

Down this hallway, into our bedroom,

And closing the door, or how we are

Trying to leave it behind us,

A decade of marriage,

A decade of dead babies and dead

Bodies and a war,

Or how there are too many,

Too many anniversaries now,

The day he left,

The day he came back,

The day I realized he was still gone,

Or the day the doctor stood there,

In front of me, a probe in his hand,

The probe on my stomach, moving

In circles, a transmitter, how he was

Saying nothing, nothing except everything,

How everything is wrong.

And I just want to hold him,

Hold my husband,

Alive and in this darkness,

My hands holding his head,

With my fingers splayed over

His head and hair like a helmet.

And I am holding him,

Holding Afghanistan,

What happened there or what

What is still happening, I whisper,

Holding it like a heart or like a brain,

Soft, and in my hands.

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We are at a science fair,

At the grammar school,

And my son is learning

How to make a paper airplane,

Taking a blank sheet of paper,

And folding it,

Over and over,

With his fingers.

And they still have not found it.

The missing Malaysian airplane

That left Kuala Lumpur and

How it is still missing.

The body of the airplane,

Its twin engines, wings,

Their folded wingtips,

And the people,

Because the airplane was full of people,

Two hundred and twenty seven passengers

And twelve crew members on board, or how

The youngest was just two years old,

And the oldest was seventy six, and

How officials say, we lost all contact,

Or how the people left behind,

Mothers and wives, sisters, daughters,

Sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers,

How they keep trying,

Trying to contact them,

Calling their cellular phones,

Letting it ring and ring, or

Listening to a voice mail message,

And saying it is still there.

But the people,

The people are just gone, and

The search is about signals,

Radars and pulses, black boxes,

And tracking pings,

Or how there is only silence.

And I am thinking about how

My younger son has Apraxia,

How his brain

Does not send the right signal

To his mouth and how

He cannot get his words

To come out.

Or how my older son worries,

How he asks me will he talk,

And I am watching him,

My older son,

Who is about to throw his paper airplane

Down this hallway of boys

And flying paper airplanes,

How I hear someone saying,

It’s like a war zone in here,

But my son is nine years old,

And he believes this world is a world

Where airplanes are not lost

And words can always be found,

And he is holding the paper airplane,

In his hand,

Pinching the nose with his two fingers,

And letting go.

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