When the Men Go Off to War
What happens when they leave
is that the houses fold up like paper dolls,
the children roll up their socks and sweaters
and tuck the dogs into little black suitcases.
Across the street the trees are unrooting,
the mailboxes rising up like dandelion stems,
and eventually we too float off,
the houses tucked neatly inside our purses, and the children
tumbling gleefully after us,
and beneath us the base has disappeared, the rows
of pink houses all the way to the ocean—gone,
and the whole city has slipped off the white earth
like a table being cleared for lunch.
We set up for a few weeks at a time
in places like Estonia or Laos—
places where they still have legends,
where a town of women appearing in the middle of the night
is surprising but not unheard of. The locals come to watch
our strange carnival unpacking in some wheat field
outside Paldiski—we invite them in for coffee,
forgetting for a minute
that some of our own men won’t come home again;
and sometimes, a wife or two won’t either.
She’ll meet someone else, say, and
it’s one of those things we don’t talk about,
how people fall in and out of love—
and also, what the chaplains are for.
And then, a few days before the planes fly in
we return. We roll out the sidewalks and make the beds,
tether the trees to the yard.
On the airfield, everything is as it should be—
our matte red lipstick, the babies blanketed inside strollers.
Only, our husbands look at us a little sadly,
the way people do when they know
they have changed but don’t want to say it.
Instead they say, What have you been doing all this time?
And we say, Oh you know, the dishes,
and they laugh and say,
Thank God some things stay the same.