for nathan and tyler

this weekend warrior
loves your big sister
captures her heart
his first prisoner
this aimless man-child
his soft green eyes
beneath that furrowed brow
framed by that fierce haircut
those soft green eyes
the only clue
he allows to escape
telling us: her heart is safe
(he knows he can’t promise)

we struggle to share her
your big sister
my first surrogate child
your surrogate mother
like i am
you have so many mothers
one baby brother
one steadfast father
now this weekend warrior
what will be his place?
in your heart?
in hers?

i see you admire him
i watch you watch him
i hear his words fall
from your young lips
wounding me with worry
stinging me with sadness
that you, like me
are a child of war
marching alongside him
this weekend warrior
who will take your heart
her heart
into battle

wartime

you send him off
supportive and scared
worried and proud
lost and found
in the heart of a boy
instantly a man
this tenuous bond
is now strong as steel

we arm ourselves
on peaceful ground
to fight a war a world away
to fight to bring him back
alive and safe
unharmed and whole
this warrior, this man
this new member
of our odd family

my father came home to me
i tell myself
he will return to you
i hope and pray
but i know too much
to truly trust
i prepare myself
to comfort you
to comfort her
when only his body
comes home
ravaged by bullets and bigotry
draped in the american flag

relief and recovery

fully a man
two tours in iraq
i am humbled on my first visit
seeing his transformation
hardworking man
the finest role model
i could choose for you
the finest man
i could hope for her

we stand in the rain
watching you play football
this soldier and i
i am insignificant beside him
knowing he knows more
than i ever will
i read the headlines
black-on-newsprint body count
but he lived the real story
counted the bodies himself
in his unit
in other units
rattles off the number of dead
(the headlines lied)
those soft green eyes
staring off
toward the mideast

i watch him
his eyes hold those secrets
that my father’s eyes hold
his heart has grown
like my father’s heart grew
he says so little
about what those eyes
have truly seen
my father says less

i sent this soldier
my prized pc books
books others could not
even touch
my only way
a tiny sacrifice
for his infinite sacrifice
i had so few words
so i gave him hers
he read them all
passed them around
to other solider-boys
he thanks me again
standing in the rain
i want to cry

he is alive
he did come home to you
he did come home to her
and us

you call me to say hello
i hear his voice
in the background
saying hello to me
i want to hold him
he is talking to your big sister
the woman he loves
i hear her laugh
my heart weeps with joy
for you, for her
for nathan

how will america repay you?
how will I utter words
that will wind into your heart
so you will fully know
the depth of my love
and gratitude
for what you risked
for what you survived
for what you carry now?
the quiet burden
of a weekend warrior
sudden soldier
hero

 * footnote – Since this writing, Nathan came home from a third tour in Iraq, haunted and withdrawn, given only a phone number and a checklist of symptoms and behaviors for self-diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Nathan went to battle for us – for you, for me, for these United States – and  that, my fellow Americans, is how we thanked him. Last I heard, Nathan was in Afghanistan, fighting the enemy, and the enemy is us.

 

With love, gratitude and respect to that soft green-eyed boy, lost but not forgotten. I think of you smiling, reading a novel, the sun on your face, sand between the pages, escaping one more time. 

 

 

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