21 April 2017
She handed me an enormous bouquet,
smiling behind her supermarket badge,
and thanked me for my service.
I was befuddled by the kindness,
then realized I was wearing my father’s jacket:
The one my little sister wore before me,
with our name printed above the right breast pocket,
US ARMY over the left. The heart.
She couldn’t know, and it was too late to say.
She couldn’t know the time I’d spent in the past
just hours earlier, taken there by songs
we jammed to at the Rec Center on base—
the one that no longer exists—while we played pool
until the soldiers came in and commandeered the table.
They were serving, we were along for the ride.
It made sense, and still does,
but we served in other ways, less voluntary.
The base housed us, gave us a place
we still remember as home. The base confined us,
defined the bounds within which we were we.
I can’t step foot on base now: I didn’t serve;
the card I keep in my wallet expired decades ago.
My home is no longer my home. When I say,
“I’m from the Army,” because I can’t say
where I’m from otherwise, I know
it’s not mine anymore, I don’t belong,
and that space behind my left breast pocket aches.
I thanked her for the flowers and finished my shopping,
confining my tears behind my eyes,
thankful for the acknowledgment of who I am,
even if she really couldn’t know.