Cape May, New Jersey, 2001
Some company commander
drops the broom into your hands,
barks, stares, and leaves. You are not worth
the backward glance. You are being discharged.
To earn your keep, you clean. You say:
Sir yessir, ma'am yes'm.
You say these things
loudly. You do not exert yourself. You have two
to think about now.
And you keep your head down, because there are ways,
ways to slip in the communal shower, the back of the head
smashing to tile while a dozen women look on,
ways to fall rigidly from the top bunk at night,
ways to choke in a crowded chow hall.
There are ways to avoid being
the only one of these two that survives. You know
who it is that will. You know that home
is not where your mother is. Home is a cold white
tiled floor, a bedroom divided, an Other
who reads Playboy, ignores you, doesn't want
the second person.
Some company commander stops you
in the dirty hallway, half-swept, and asks:
What are you naming it? What if it's a Girl? Boy?
And you keep your head down, because there won't be any names,
no small soft clothing, no proud papa, and you say:
Sir I don't know sir. Sir it's too early to tell sir.
Dismissed, you go on stabbing each corner with the broom,
shoving the hairs and fingernails and old food and rocks
into the wall, shoving it back up inside you,
the way your mother, seven hours behind,
is shoving chipped dishes
into the dishwasher, hurting her hands, forcing
stained porcelain into the racks.