Long After their War, Hearing Me

tell their stories—twenty-five years after
they came Home, they go back into it, the War.
And they are boys again with old
eyes and crude homemade tattoos—a girlfriend’s
name, a cross, the circle of peace—its clawed
interior.  And I learn their words,
taking their uncontrolled furies, bony-kneed
endurance, stubble-faced bravado,
as mine.  My body, my territory,

because I bore a son twenty-seven years ago
while it was happening to them, their War.
And they have taught me what I could have
become if I were man not woman.
And as I say their words, I see them—
gray-haired, or sag-bellied like my husband,
grief and laugh lines around their eyes,
lifting up the ghosts in their arms,
those boys who never had a chance to grow old.
Those boys they had to leave behind.

Back home under the scary beds in New
Harmony, Indiana; New Haven, USA,
every other place in the World, their fires
still burn.  The swift moments
complicated by large cruelties and great
love live on in them.

I listen as they advise school children:
Question everything your government tells you!
 
Shrugging their shoulders:
I had a choice you know: Jail or the War?

Asking:  Who would I be today if I did not go?
Lifting their hands, holding them open
Before them:  They trained us
To be killing machines.
 Closing them
into fists: I’d go againWe took care
Of each other.  We served
Our country.

Later as I stand together with them
in fifty-year-old community,
I wonder:  How possible is it
to reassemble so many broken lives?
I watch their kindness to each other,
their careful offerings—a cloth to another’s
sudden tears, a bowl of fruit on a table,
the adjustment of chairs—fussing
like housewives over the comfort of details.
As if all this care, all this doubt,
all this proud submission
to the order of things
can explain, can recover,

can finally
heal.
                                                3/7to11/1997

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