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
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
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
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.