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It takes me a minute to recognize you
To remember that you are mine.
Your image flickers and lags over the computer screen.
I am speechless, I don’t know where to look
My face hurts from smiling too tight.
You are putting together a backpack
The shell of which looks like the mobile home
Of some giant tortoise that you
Have killed and evicted.
You are watching a tutorial video at the corner
Of the screen, your face distorted
And funny in concentration.
Your new friends are in the other room
Singing along (badly) to Wrong Way by Sublime.
This is not what I expected when I heard, “barracks”
Had not expected you to be as young as I had
Last left you. Your friends trail in, you introduce me.
I wave from a time zone away
Wish that I had worn something other than
A Hooters tank top and boxers
“This is my girl from back home,” you say
Prideful. It makes me happy in a way that
Has always made me afraid.
“I wonder if she’s into Mexicans,”
One of them asks, because his last name
Is home to an accent mark. He doesn’t
Realize that I can hear him.
I cover my face, shake my head.
“He’s staying in tonight because he’s loyal,”
The same boy tells me, as if in apology.
“I know he is, he’s a good guy,” I say
Even though I know no one can hear me
You dole out advice to them, to get home
Safe. This is what you do, you take care of
Someday you will take care of me.
I crack jokes about your massive backpack
Say that I’ll have to explain to our grandchildren
About your hunchback. You do not wince
When I mention the future and I love this about you.
You are not afraid to promise me decades.
You imitate what my voice will be as an old woman
But it sounds like screeching metal and rust.
“What is that?” I ask you.
“That’s your voice after you resort to chain smoking
During my first deployment.” And I laugh
There’s nothing I’d rather do than ruin my lungs
Worrying to death over you.
You do a fashion show, model for me all that
The army has given you.
You show me your plated vest, explain to me
All the ways you will not die for me.
It makes me feel slightly better.
In turn, I I twirl my leather skirt around
For you, explain that this was my plan for graduation
If I was going, that is. Graduation day
Is just another sacrifice at this altar,
Another part of me I’m gnawing off trying
To get out of this trap college town, trying
To get back to your skin sooner.
You sing me cadences
Mostly questionable, bloody, and
Nauseatingly patriotic, but from
This pile of rot comes a rhyme
About a girl with a ribbon in her hair
Pushing a baby carriage, carrying on life
For her tanker who is so far from her.
I picture you
Singing this in basic, when you could not
Speak to me, when I was your happy place
In a world of chaos. And I know that you have
Never stopped thinking about me
I want to cry for all that we have endured
For all we have yet to face
For all the happinesses that will never
Be guaranteed to us.
You riffle through your wallet.
Find the picture I mailed to you
What seems like years ago.
“You told me to keep it in a place
That I would see it every day,” you say
“And I do.”
I never thought of myself as the girl in
Someone’s wallet. I’m painfully happy
To be the face in yours.
Tonight is the first time,
I hear rather than read your voice
Tell me that you love me.
It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
I tie my hair back in a ribbon
Countdown the minutes until
My tanker is no longer so far