It is the middle of a night

And my son is still awake

Because he cannot sleep.

In the living room he sees

A spider. And he calls out

To me. Saying the word bee

Because he cannot. Cannot

Say the word spider yet and

I show him how to capture

A spider with a cup. And I

Am holding my one hand

Over the open part.

Unlocking and opening a

Door with my other hand.

Telling my son wait or now.

Before moving my hand and

Letting it go.

Released I say.

And the word released is

releasing into darkness.

The darkness of a night

With a sky that stretches

Where I ask my son and

Maybe Jupiter because

He is seven and he likes

Planets. And he tries to

Say the word Jupiter or

How he says a word that is Jupiter

But sounds. Sounds nothing like it.

And we go outside. Go

Outside because we are

Awake or because

The sky is. And this is how.

How I take his hand and

Say outside. Where we

Lie on our backs in dark

Grass. Blades of grass that

Twist against our skin. Skin

Of our arms and necks and

Hands and legs and feet. And

My son points up to the sky

And says purple and I know

He means this. That the sky

Is purple. Even though.

Even though it is night.

And I tell him about airglow.

How it is  radiation

From the atmosphere that

Makes the sky light up and

I say words like atoms and

Molecules. How there are

Solar photons and cosmic

Rays and how it all emits

And glows and

My son is silent.

How he hears me

But cannot speak.

How he is listening but he

Cannot say. Say what he is


And I try to imagine what

The inside of his brain is

Like. How it is filled with

Words and phrases and

Sentences that

Collect like particles and

Paragraphs and

Form the thoughts that

He cannot say yet. How

They are thoughts

I do not know yet.

That are trapped

And held captive inside

His brain like that.

And I am turning my head

Or how the blades of grass

Are moving under my head

Like snakes. Snakes that are

Lying beneath me and I am

Turning to make sure he is

Still here. My son. Still and

Next to me.

And I tell him to remember.

To always remember how

A night falls. To remember

This night and airglow.

How it is never really dark.

How there is always light

Being released from




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My son wakes up

And calls out to me.

His voice is a wave that

Passes through the wall

That separates us.

A hollow cavity.

And I say coming.

Touch my husband. His

Shoulder. Say going. And

He is rolling over. Asleep.

And away from me. And

I find my son sitting up.

Asking me about the planes.

Two planes. What

Happened to them

After. After

They hit the two towers.

And I say well. Use the

Words slam and pierce or skin.

How I tell him that the nose

Of a plane can slam

Into a tower. Pierce

Through. Through

The skin of it. And

I am saying then.

How then it all crashed down.

Or how three years ago

A piece of one of the planes

Was found. Found between

Two buildings. Twelve years

Later and stuck.

Twelve years my son says

Because that is how long he

Has been alive.

Laying back down. His eyes.

Heavy. Saying good.

How it is good it was found.

But my son is talking about planes.

How he is not thinking about people.

All the people. These human remains.

And he does not know.

Cannot imagine.

How so much of what

Was lost on 9/11 was

Never found. Or how

Almost half.

Half of the people who died

That day

Are still missing. Or how

almost all of the people who

Were found were found

In parts.

A tooth. A hip bone.

Ring finger. A set of

Arms. Knee cap or

How so much of what remains

Is genetic material. Pulverized


This I tell myself.

My hand moving

Across the plane

Of my son’s forehead.

As if

My fingers are a wing.

How this is what the word remains means.

How all the people. The dead

And the missing and the parts.

How they are still there.

But how. Still there does not mean not gone.

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When I met you I was only


How I wore my bones on

The outside like a


And tonight there is a super moon,

The blood moon, this lunar eclipse,

And I go outside to stand in the

Black sea

Of our driveway,

Looking up and

Ankle deep and

How I see part of the moon,

A misshapen moon between

The trees,


A smooth and white patella


A kneecap moon, I whisper

To our children, asleep and

For you, because you are away,

In a hotel room in New York City,

Thirty years, you are saying to

Me, over the telephone, now,

How this moon will not

Happen again for thirty


But nothing does, I tell

You, how nothing does,

And this is our marriage,

The moon outside or

How the years wrap like

Vessels around muscle

And tendon and, yes,


Around us,


All of the times I have heard

You say no and, then, yes,

And your voice is made of words,

Syllables and letters that connect

And break apart and reassemble

Like atoms,

Protons and neutrons,

Or us, I say,

How the years wrap around


Because how many times,

How many times has your

Hand reached for my face

In the dark,


Like stars,

But how each time, each time

Is like the moon,

Only once and

Never again

The same.

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At the pond

We see frogs,

Hundreds, my son says,

How there are so many

Frogs, as we walk past

The pond,

Or how they are small,

Maybe two centimeters,

Or how their bodies look

Like stones,

Until they


Their bodies,

Wet and moving,

And everywhere

On this sidewalk,

The road, or how

The grass between


And the edge of the pond

Is full,

Full of them.

Later, we read about

These frogs, how they

Are called spring peepers

Or pseudacris crucifer,

A small chorus frog,

How they breed in ponds

And how they climb out,


And in groups,

Hundreds of them,

Moving like that,

Out of the pond

And to somewhere else.

Where, my son asks me,

Because he is in bed and

He is asking me,

Asking about the frogs,

Where they will go or

If they will survive,

And I tell him about

Amphibian development,

How frogs migrate

From one breeding pond

To some place else, how

It is biological, using the

Word habitat,

Saying want,

How the frogs want to go,

Which is different,

I say, to myself, but

Not to my son, who

Is falling asleep now,

How it is different from

Humans or what happens

To people who live

In a country torn


By war,

How they have to go,

How it is called conflict induced displacement,

A forced migration,

How there are more,

More than fifty million

Refugees in this world

Who are forced, forced

To leave their homes,

Their cities or countries

And lives

Or how tomorrow,

Tomorrow I will go

To the pond,

And it will be quiet or


How I will see them,

The frogs that died,

That did not make it,

Their bodies on the


Dried out


By the sun,


Flat and like

An imprint

Or dust,

Barely there or

Almost gone.

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The house is growing


When I drive up

Our driveway and sit

In my car, this night


Out around me, and

I can see

The house and

My husband who

Is standing near

The window,

Pulling the curtain


Or how the shadow

Of him is moving,

Moving across the room,

Where he is shutting off


Before coming to the front

Door and waiting for me,

Waiting for me to come


And tell him yes,

Because he wants to go


Go away to Somalia or


The Horn of Africa,

To help he says, or

How I said no.

And I am standing

On this front step,

Facing him,

And I do not have to turn

Around to know,

Know that this is what night

Looks like after it has fallen,

Or that I will not change

My mind,


Because he has already gone

To war,

Because, in Kabul,

A woman was stoned to death,

How the men dragged her body

Down to the bed of a river and

Lit it on fire,

While people watched and

Because the Horn of Africa

Feels like more,

More war,

More violence,

More terror,

More people gunned down,

Armed militia and tanks and

Men and women and children


And we are here, moving

Through this house, this

Conversation again, how

We are here,

Standing in this hallway


How this hallway is the

Artery of our house, how

It runs down the center

Of the house and us and

I am saying more,

How it feels like

More of a chance

He will go over there and

Die this time,

Or how we hear our son


Moving in the other room,

In this darkness, and I turn

To my husband,

Saying your turn,

How it is his turn

This time,

And this is the part

Where my husband

Will go,

Lay next to him,

Our son,


Thinks about words

He cannot say, or

How my husband

Is whispering,

Whispering to him

Whispering the words

Love and

You and

Our son,

Who is five years old,

Reaches his hand out

To touch his father’s


Saying yes,

And the word,

His word yes,

Is a note, this

Unexpected note,

A whole note,

That hangs in the air,

And I am on the other

Side of a wall,

Lying in our bed,

Imagining a horn,

Metal and gold

Colored and brass

With a bell on one


That flowers,


Or how there are

Buttons, buttons

But no sound,

No noise,

No fingers,

No wrist or


Or how the body

Of the horn curves

Like my body or

The body of country

And how the Horn of Africa

Is a group of countries and

How the land flares out,

There, shaped like a horn,

And how I know that

A country can be like


A beautiful instrument

I do not know how to play.

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I am standing in the kitchen

When I hear him,

My hands and arms,

Wrist deep,

In a sink full of water,

And my son is crying,

My son,

Who is five years old


But cannot speak,

Not more than two,

Two words at a time,

How he comes to me


Saying okay,

Which is what he says

When he is upset and

This time, this time,

I do not know

What it is, and

He cannot tell me,

And I hold him,

Hold his body

Against my body,

As if proximity, or

How close we are

Can change things,

And I tell him,

I know,

Even though I don’t,

I don’t know, or how

I keep saying sorry,

The word sorry,

As if it can make it



It will grow dark

In this house,

And our children

Will sleep, and

I will try to tell

My husband what


And he will say no,

Or stop,

Because he already knows,

Or because I don’t have to,

And we will walk

Across these rooms,

My husband and I,

Down this hallway,

Through that door,

Until we are here,

Lying, in our bed,

Talking instead about


The terrible things

That happen when

There is war, and

We are searching,

Searching for one

Another, our two

Bodies, heavy, and

Here, searching for

A word that can describe

The things that happen

To civilians in war,

The things that the military

Pays for, pays Afghan civilians

For their loss,

How it is called battle damage,

Or condolence pay, 

And solatia, how

There is a database

That keeps track,

One arm gone,

A car blown up,

A house destroyed,

A man shot, woman

Killed, seven cows,

Two legs,

The dead child.

This feels impossible,

I whisper to my husband,

In this darkness, how it

Feels impossible to know,

Know how much Afghans

Have lost in this war, or

How it is impossible to

Add up loss, or

To make it go



Loss is a hole

That we try to

Fill up with


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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


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,


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


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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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We are awake

Still and

Sitting in the dark

Of our living room,

Talking about it


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


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


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


This is the bone of us.


How I am trying to

Tell him that the risk

Is him going,

Going to war


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,


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 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,


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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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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