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Don’t Daddy

by Pattie Palmer-Baker

Don’t volunteer for the war
You won’t be able to endure.
You have a delicate heart,
an unarmored heart –
hidden so well,
even you can’t find it.

Don’t go.
You will be sent to New Guinea
behind the lines. Your boys
with the eyes of men
will dig dirt, saw wood, tote steel.
At night, as you choke on the thick black heat,
when you hear branches crack, leaves whiffle,
you will make a list–
a spiny anteater,
a fruit bat,
a spider bigger than your fist,
or a Japanese soldier,
venomous as the death adder snake.

You alone, you will believe,
carry the deadweight of all your men.
You will turn yourself inside out.
Wounded boys, dead boys
will tear pieces off your heart dangling
on your shirtless chest.

If you go,
your body will come home,
but not you, not that honeyed promise of a man.
So little of your heart will remain,
my mother, my sisters and I will starve,
we will wither.
You will seek a friend to jump-start
your weak, tattered heart.
Jim Beam will be his name,
a golden-tongued serial killer.
Don’t go.
One day, years in the future,
you will sit at the head
of the kitchen table
drunk.
You will break the cease-fire
in place for eighteen years.
You will sob–
Oh, the boys, all the boys–
dead.