Pretend

Our son is invited to a birthday party

Where they will play tag with laser guns,

Wear vests over their small chests, and

Carry large rifles,

Kneel in the darkness,

And shoot each other.

I don’t like it, I say to my husband,

As we unload the dishwasher,

Separating forks and spoons and

Knives, the artillery of this kitchen.

And the other mothers

Will say it is harmless or unavoidable,

Just part of it, part of being a boy, and

How they will do it anyway,

Pretend to kill.

But war is real

In our house.

Because my husband went to war.

Twelve months,

Boots-on-ground in Afghanistan,

And he came home lucky,

Because he was still alive,

And because he did not have to

Use his gun.

But the war is not over.

And he can always go back,

Get deployed again,

Leave us and

Wear his Kevlar helmet again,

His body armor again,

And carry two guns again,

A machine gun and

A pistol,

Just in case, he tells me,

He has to shoot someone

At close range,

Repeating them, the words

Close and range.

And he shows me the distance,

As we stand, here,

In front of the sink,

Reaching out his hand,

And taking mine, saying

Like this, before pulling me closer.

War is not pretend,

I will say,

When we tell our son,

You cannot go.

War covers this world.

And war covers children.

Children in South Sudan or Iraq,

Afghanistan and Syria and Pakistan.

War covers children

In mass graves

On the side of a road.

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