I try to explain to him,

"She doesn't understand"

when she's kicking at ant beds

and stomping on caterpillars.

/

But the thought of his precious

Daughter, killing even the

Tiniest of creatures makes

A desert of his mouth

/

And the shiny film

Of a cold sweat starts to bead

On his forehead, wrinkled

With worry.

/

I tell him,

"he doesn't know what it means,"

when his son is firing

imaginary bullets from plastic guns

/

but each pew pew pew,

coupled with a spray of spit

and pretend explosions

squeezes his heart tight –
/

almost stopping it,

and his palms start to itch

while his hands clench

into fists and his fingernails

draw blood.
/

He is brought back to that day,

Underneath the hot sun,

With a fire blazing and the fetid

Stench of burning flesh –

Oppressive, inescapable –

Cloaking him in thick black smoke.
/

He is choking and his eyes

Are watering and his mind

Is blank, there is only screaming

and no bodies, just the ashes

In the air, whispering against his skin,

In his lungs.
/

And he is a statue

Frozen in the chaos

And all that he can see,

Like phantoms in the smoke,

Are a little girl and a little boy,

Waiting for him, waving.
/

And he is clambering towards them

And he is clutching them to his chest

And he is sobbing and then suddenly

Realizes his pants are warm and wet

And they are not there

And he feels a deep shame.
/

When he comes back I try to tell them,

In my sweetest mommy voice,

"Daddy is a little different right now, but

he will get better –- he has missed

us very much." But he is awkward

with them and one night

he brushes her hair for three hours

holding her tight to him in his lap

and she is sobbing and begging

"let me go, let me go," and I am

prying his arms from around her waist.
/

The next morning she wears

A bruise like a belt

And neither can look at the other.
/

He throws his son's army-men

Down a growling garbage disposal

And with the tears streaking down

His hot red face, he hisses, "I hate you!"

And the man that has come back

To us, the man that survived what

Others did not, is swallowing up the boy,

His fingers digging ditches in the skin

Of his shoulders as he shakes him

Until they are both crying.
/

One night I wake up to the soft

Whimpering of a child, afraid

Of the boogeyman; except it is not

A child, it is a grown man, broken.

A grown man so haunted by

Violence he has wet the bed.
/

I sit the children down and I say,

"daddy has to go away again – not

far away like last time."
/

And all along it has been my job

To hold the tears behind a prison

Of eyelids closed tight, so I turn to stone.
/

And the children cry because

They are supposed to miss daddy,

Even though I know they will not.

"when will he be back?"

they ask, not out of excitement

for his return but out of

fear.
/

and the one thing I can't bring myself to explain,

the one thing that couldn't be explained

without sending them to that desolate place,

is that he is never coming back.