The Year You Served

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.

What are you looking for?