Matter

My older son is looking

For the quotient,

Because he is doing math

And it is a problem

Of division,

And I tell him how the total

Number can be divided into

Parts

And how, sometimes, sometimes

There is a remainder.

And I am thinking about my husband

Who is gone, deployed, to Afghanistan,

A country where men and women and

Children and roads and bombs and the

Risk of getting killed or having to kill is

Added together and the danger

Is multiplied.

And I only tell my children parts,

How he flew on a military cargo

Airplane to Turkey and then to

Kabul, how he slept on a bunk

In a transient berthing station

On a base next to the airport

And how, how I don’t say the

Other parts,

How I have not heard from him

In over two days,

Or how the airport is where

Three men were shot,

Dead,

Last week,

By a man wearing the uniform

Of the Afghan National Army.

And my younger son can only

Say a few words

Even though he is five years old.

And he is saying hello and daddy’s car

Because he cannot say anything else

And because the driveway is half empty.

Now it is night

And this day is

Already splitting

Into tomorrow

And my children

Are asleep or how

What they know is

Only a part of what

The world will teach them,

And I am standing, here, in

This hallway watching them,

And their bodies are still and

Alive and whole,

Like atoms,

How they are the smallest

Units of matter, how they

Are the smallest units that

Matter.

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Structure

My son is sitting

At the kitchen table

Talking about the textual structures

He learned about in school, or how

There is description and sequencing

Or cause and effect and

Problem and solution,

And how sometimes they overlap,

Overlap on top of one another to

Tell a story, he says.

And I am taking plates out of the sink

And putting them in the dishwasher,

Telling my son that

Words are like worlds,

How you have to walk around them

To see, I say, to see what they mean,

And I am looking for paper,

A piece of paper,

So we can make a list, I tell him,

Opening a notebook,

My husband’s, or how

I see it,

His handwriting and the words

Police and range and shooting

And how I know,

I know now, know

That this is mandatory training,

That he is going to go back,

And that

Going back will be more, more

Than what he has described to

Me, rolling over, in our bed,

To face me, saying,

It is safe, and how

It is only a week, or

Maybe two,

And he is telling me how

He does not see problems

In Afghanistan, how he sees

Solutions instead, and how

He wants to make a difference,

And I say, yes, tell him,

I understand, that I understand

That he has to go, because I do.

But I can picture it again,

The sequence of war,

The order of how he

Will put on his uniform,

The camouflage uniform,

The boots and body armor,

A belt around his waist or

How he will carry it, carry

The gun they will give him,

The M9,

A pistol,

That he will wear on his belt,

The one he will shoot, shoot,

Shoot if he has to,

At close range, or

What it means,

The roads and the cars and

The bombers and the IEDs,

The cause or the effect of it,

All the danger and the death,

How I do not know anymore,

Which comes first, and

How words are like that,

The words we say and

The ones we don’t,

How sometimes, sometimes

Words can mean more than

One thing,

And I am turning towards him,

Our son, with a piece of paper

In my hand, saying I am ready,

Or how, later, I will turn the knob

To the door of our bedroom, and

How I will try to turn on the light,

And when it does not turn on,

I will feel my way through this,

The darkness of it,

The structure of

This moment we have not had yet,

Where I am climbing into our bed,

Whispering where are you?

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Grenade

We are awake

Still and

Sitting in the dark

Of our living room,

Talking about it

Again,

About getting out or staying in,

In the military,

How we are in the military

And I want to get out.

And we are sitting on our couch,

Which is heavy and laying across

The room like a bone,

A leg bone,

The femur,

How it is the strongest bone in the

Human body,

And my husband is getting up,

Standing now,

Pacing the floor,

And I can barely see him

In the dark,

How our house is dark or

The air looks like hanging

Static, how it is gray like

Smoke,

And my husband is saying,

Saying the benefit outweighs the risk,

And I am half

Listening to him,

Half watching his

Hands move

Through the air like

He is holding grenades,

Two M67 grenades,

The kind that soldiers

Carry when they go to

War,

And he is talking about

Deployment and probability,

Or statistics, the likelihood,

And his words are

Grenades, flying across

The length of the room,

Our conversation, or

The distance between us,

How his words land,

How there is a delay,

Those four seconds

Before they explode,

Fragment and shatter,

Because I know,

I know he will not get

Out.

This is the bone of us.

Here.

How I am trying to

Tell him that the risk

Is him going,

Going to war

Again,

Going to a country where

He can get killed, blown up,

His head cut off with a knife

On video,

How he can come home

Without legs,

His arms, half of his face,

A swollen brain,

How going means goodbye,

Saying goodbye to them,

Again,

Our two sons, standing in

A doorway and telling them

I will be back,

When it may not be true, how

Going means leaving,

Leaving,

Leaving again,

Again, I say,

My word meaning nothing

Maybe, just a shell, remnant,

A remnant of this war that

Stretches across us, across

All of us, like skin,

And we have talked about it before,

Too many times, my husband says,

Before

He touches me,

My face and my

Shoulder and

Walks away,

His hands empty now,

And I go to the window,

Which is wet from

Condensation and

Where the darkness is

Pooling, there,

Outside, how

It is pushing against

The window and me

Like a heart,

How the world is

A heart, and I am

Pushing my face against it,

The window, this world,

That heart,

And when I pull away,

My hair is matted against

My head

Like blood.

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Explode

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

Airstrikes.

And he is climbing into bed

Now,

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

Don’t,

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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Golf

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,

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

Waiting

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,

And,

Then,

Beheaded, I am saying,

Beheaded,

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,

Unimaginable,

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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Moon

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

Linked,

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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Fall

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

Again,

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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