Lisa J. Parker

Beautiful

for Scott

     
   

You propose in a hotel lobby just off Ft. Bragg,
hold up a pink poster with an ARMY WIFE bumper sticker
and the word YES in all caps with three question marks after it.
We have fifteen hours before you are due back on base, off
again to Afghanistan, your last hardship tour.
I wake against you ten minutes before the alarm goes off,
go through the familiar memorization, my head pounding
with adrenaline and the need to commit it all, to close my eyes
months later and remember how to conjure you accurately.
It's a quick, easy inventory over planes of your stomach, worked tight
and unyielding with heavy packs on your back, the higher curve of your thighs
when you've been in mountainous areas, the cleft
in your chin where I once nicked you when you let me
shave you, both of us wiping pink-tinged foam from us.
What takes longer is the catalog I can't stop myself making:
Left side, just beneath your ribs, the skin rises a sleek,
jagged line where they field-stitched a stabwound: Paktika, Afghanistan.
The grafted place on the inside of your left arm where no hair will grow,
where an RPG stung you as it passed by, a near miss: Fallujah, Iraq.
Right upper thigh, two-inch scar from a hard Chinook landing: Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Left lower calf, three-inch scar: Pristina, Kosovo.
Right clavicle, small scar that makes the pattern of hair appear wavy and tamped down,
a strange crop circle I asked about once and you said simply Somalia.
You are watching me when I look up and I lie flush against you, kiss
the smooth spot beneath your right ear where a parachute line burned you once
as you spun somewhere above the earth.
You say Talk me awake, wife. I want to take your voice with me.
I press my fingers against the rough scar at your collarbone, feel your pulse
push back against me. In Japan, I whisper, when they mend broken objects
they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold.
They believe when something has suffered damage and has a history,
it becomes more beautiful.

     
           
 

Heaving

     
   

At the edge of Ft Bragg, pre-dawn, the haloed shapes of Christmas lights
are bent in the fog of this unseasonably warm weather.
You don't offer promises of unscathed returns
or apologies for the tears I soak your shirtfront with
but step back, finally, hold the back of my neck with one hand,
the other pressed flat against my chest
and then you're gone.
The fog twists the wake behind you,
your long stride leaves cyclonic traces that lift and sink
against the pavement long after I've lost you
in the whole-swallow of mist blinking misshapen red and green stars.
The path back to the car is flanked by evergreens
burdened with spray-snow from locals who finally
gave up on a real winter, and I stop to look down on the pale green tips
of daffodils sprouting defiantly against railroad ties, the strange smell
of kreosote and loam carried up in misty droplets
that hang on me to the parking lot.
Condensation on the windshield casts snaking shadows
against the passenger seat I lean toward, your scent still resting there.
If I came back here in a week, two, would the yellow ruffle
of daffodils play strange backdrop to the last of the Christmas props
or would they lay bent-bladed and cut down with weather
that must surely come?
I leave the post remembering how I walked the blustery edge
of fields with Grandma who snapped frozen heads of tulips, filling
her coat front, folded toward her belly, swollen
with the waxy, glistening yellows and pinks, still bullet-headed
before they could open, taken out by a killing frost.
We call this heaving, she said, placing one of the icy
smooth things in my palm. Get a winter cycle doesn't come fierce enough
to freeze the ground through, every hopeful seed will try to flower.

     
           
 

Tracer

     
   

There is no subtle tracing of your body when you sleep,
no amount of exhaustion or satiation that puts you down
deeply enough for someone’s hands to touch you unnoticed
and so I have wondered at your closed eyes when I trace that scar
on your left side just beneath that last small rib, its edges jagged
and raised where your brothers field-stitched you in haste
after an Afghan policeman, there to guide you to the local jirga,
stabbed you in your sleep while his colleagues jumped the others.
Smitty told me you broke the man’s neck before you were even fully awake,
that the three of you took down the whole of them, stacked them
like cord wood, egressed to a safety point where field medics gave you morphine,
tried to clean up the mess your boys  made of you.
You have told me none of this.
When I kiss the raised smooth edge of it, you lift my head and pull me
up and over you, brush the huge pads of your thumbs against my eyelids
as if to erase what might linger beneath.

     
           
 

Deployment: Homefront

     
   

On my knees beside the sunken tub,
I've sprayed a straight line of cleaner
across the porcelain base and halfway
across the tub on that first swipe, brush bearing down,
I see the faint outline
of your foot, yank the brush back and push
the bleach bare-handed from that piece of you,
phantom and unexpected.
I press my hand flat, palm to your heel,
my fingers fitting easily
to the instep not quite
to the pads of your toes,
leave it there until the slow burn
of bleach begins and I pull back,
one thin line where my forefinger rested
etched to your sole.

     
           
 
   
     
 
      return to poetry
 

Lisa J. Parker is a writer, musician, and photographer born and raised in Fauquier County, Virginia. She is the author of the 2010 Weatherford Award-winning book This Gone Place and has published in numerous literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Penn State, and several writing awards including the Randall Jarrell Prize In Poetry, the National Allen Tate Memorial Prize In Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets Prize. Her photography was exhibited in New York City, where she lived for several years, as part of New York Public Library’s Storylines Project. She currently lives in Virginia, where she works in the Defense and Intel sector and continues to work on writing and photography projects. Her work can be seen at www.wheatpark.com.