Tenderly he rocks me in his shell-shocked arms,
humming the melody of a song
whose words he no longer remembers.
The week he left for war, I wore his shirts around the house
as if that warm, familiar scent cemented something,
They gave him a medal (two, actually) and sent him home,
broken, patched for mending--until the next call up.
There’s a different smell about him now—-it’s one of Fear,
echoed in the hardened eyes which glare out, uncomprehending,
as if waiting for someone to explain.
We share a pillow because I want to be there
when the nightmares start,
when his restless breathing turns into a shrieking
howl, like an animal being slaughtered.
Sometimes, at the sink, when doing dishes, I pull out a memory
to make everything as it was again.
Only it isn’t,
Tenderly I rock him, in my arms,
wondering how this came to be--
how going to war could make him disappear,
leaving me this stranger
in my bed.
[First published in Burlington Poetry Journal, Vol. I, 2008. Photo by awyn, taken in October, 2008, of a white birch tree at Moulin Seigneurial du Pointe-du-Lac, Quebec.]