first published by Bare Fiction
At first, the uniform hung too loose on you,
but your father stretched you,
your grandfather squeezed you,
your mother fed you
until it fit,
and by the time I met you,
your haircut and your posture matched the stiffness of the fabric,
and the buttons were all in the right places.
I said I’d never met someone as handsome as you were,
but you said that since you met me the seam at the neckline felt itchy,
that the sleeves had shrunk, and you wished you could take the uniform off.
But the blue went well with the color of your amber eyes,
and made you look taller in front of the altar.
Your father said it would shape you up.
Your grandfather gave you his army boots,
even though they were old and two sizes too big for you.
Your mother said it would help you, and your sisters, and brothers to have
a better life and all of us actually, even our unconceived baby and his future.
And I agreed. So you came up with a plan –
you’d go, you’d fight, you’d come home.
At first, your letters talked about land and sky,
and how during the day your uniform started to fit better,
but at night its starkness kept you from sleeping.
And the others felt the same way.
It must have been the mattresses or the hot air
that made the fabric hard to wear,
but the stars still shone up high,
and the cicadas sang as loud as
they did under your childhood’s sky.
You said that if you closed your eyes real tight,
and stopped breathing for a while
to block out the smell of human sweat,
you could almost feel me lying there,
breathe into the cascade of my hair,
pull my arms around your chest,
touch my naked lips, and pull me
closer so that I fit in the hollow of your heart,
and could hear the rain spill,
and penetrate the barren ground.
At first, I tucked myself into the intimacy of your letters,
and bathed in the safe spaces between your words.
I burned my fears with the fervent strokes of your pen
until your voice changed, and the letters I wrote you
slipped through the holes in your pockets.
You said the uniform had torn, some buttons had fallen off,
and you had no soap to wash the stains.
The uniform was too big on you again,
but it didn’t matter,
because your mother wasn’t there to fix it,
and your father was too far to help.
and you wanted to come home anyway.
At first, your hug felt too tight,
your voice too soft,
your thoughts too loud,
your dreams too dark,
and now no matter what I say or do
you scream at me, yell
that I’ll never understand.
Then you apologize, hate yourself and disappear
into the dark hole you brought home with you.
And when you turn and toss
and curse and spit
and sit up in bed at night
and lay down and start again,
I slip away and crawl into the airless closet
where your uniform hangs, torn
and heavy and unspeakable as your soul.
I wrap it around my puzzled body
to feel the warmth of your old atoms
stuck to the pores of the fabric that robbed me of you,
and I drape its sleeves around my shoulders,
and nuzzle in the haze of our past
until I sob myself into dreamless sleep .
At first, I wished you didn’t come back just yet,
but remained in your letters, watched over me from a distance.
But then I think about an Afghan girl without a name, dressed in dirty clothes,
with dark braids bouncing to the rhythm of her hurried steps
as she fetches water from a well for her brother sick at home.
And I also think about the bullet
that would leave your gun, if you were still there,
aiming at nothing but the air
or a target in the distance.
I think about its unstoppable velocity,
its unerring track, its inevitable approach
toward the girl who happened to be
in the wrong place, in the wrong moment, in a wrong world.
And even though we all wish she could duck,
I see the hot lead pierce through her young skin,
her bones, lungs, heart,
and as her body falls, a shroud of dust veils around her
as to protect her entrance into a silent world.
And at that moment, that very moment
I know your place is here
in our bed and in our home
so that the girl and her sick brother and you and I
I wish bravery didn’t wear such shiny uniforms,
I wish the glare didn’t blind us all,
I wish we recognized that heroes
are broken husbands, distant fathers,
lost sons and daughters,
because can’t we see
that uniforms hang awkwardly
no matter how perfectly mothers sew the seams
or how the creases fold in all the right places
or how fine the fabric is
or how long we train to kill,
once we put it on
we will never be the same.