The Year You Served
The fear of a closed casket,
the fear of an open one: it was
a ragged year, a year of fear.
The fear of flower arrangements
and hymns, of wondering whether
I would say the familiar prayers.
The fear of not knowing the
Kaddish and the fear of learning
it because I might need it, then.
And had you died, I would have
cared less about whether to say the
Lord’s Prayer. I would have said
Kaddish or not, learned it or read
a translation, and it wouldn’t
have mattered, without you.
The flag we flew and the yellow
ribbons we wore wouldn’t be
enough, we feared. I worried little
about my pregnancy, more about
whether you would meet your
nephew. I was trying for hope,
settling for worry when I was
lucky enough to avoid fear.
The fear that this would be
our last meal together: dinner
in the Haight, too much sangria
(before I was pregnant), or too little,
plátanos fritos, black beans and rice.
The next morning, the fear that the
drive to the airport would be
the last one: the ride that lasted too
long and not nearly long enough,
with everything and nothing to say.
What did we talk about? Farming,
I’d guess, to calm us: back to our
roots and our hope for return.
The fear of southeast Baghdad,
of your next mission, the one
you’d mentioned on the webcam,
the one you’d do in your morning,
while we slept, or tried to.
Above all, I feared the phone.
I ran to it; I wanted to forget it.
I wanted to forget that a phone
can set off an IED. Would it ring
in my classroom, or on my cell?
Would they wait to call me at home?
We didn’t know everything to
be afraid of, until you came
back to tell us. It turns out there
was fear even in our hope: your
replacements. Still green, they
stopped a car they shouldn’t have.
You had a creeping feeling as you
searched the trunk, a fear of explosives.
No bomb, no IED. A phone just
a phone again. Our fear cuts
loose from our bones. Our lungs
relax, like we forgot they could.
Take us home with you, now,
where we’ll answer the phone
like we’re normal and forget
with our muscles, when we can.