SOUTH CHINA SEA (June 13, 2015) Lightning strikes the water as San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) navigates between storms. The Essex Amphibious Ready Group is currently operating in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Liam Kennedy/Released)

Ode to a Brother

by Yania Padilla Sierra

As a child
you gloried
in your water guns,
your plastic green tanks.
Our backyard was your battlefield;
battle cries and machine gun fire
a glorious mish mash
as your Indians and GI Joes fought.
Plastic heads hewn from bodies by firecrackers,
mangled dolly corpses hung like mobiles in your room.
You would ambush me in hallways,
L’Oreal war paint distorting your face.
Lovable savage.
We’d wrestle to the ground and you’d slit my throat,
claiming my scalp for your hero box.
Older now,
the city was your theatre of war;
grappling with the urban haunts that chase every lil Puerto Rican boy,
running with wolves who were grayer, slyer
and hungry for prey.
Your bedroom eyes full of secrets-it was all a game.
Your smile-
easy, contagious-
promised danger.
How alluring you were,
chasing death.
Braver because of it.
Daring it to find you.
Daddy would laugh, a barrel of an Army man and pat your head-
best to leave it a game.
You heard the dare in his voice,
the disappointment hidden in a silver flask.
You didn’t shirk.

—–

Eighteen came,
and eighteen wouldn’t leave
until your boots were on the ground.
Away you went,
to play with real deal GI Joes.
Firecrackers now with more burn than sizzle.
You sent me a shell once-spent and burnt-
and I laughed, peeking around the corner as I put it away.
Still such a child.
Your number came up
-4thID-
And off you went
to fight in ravaged backyards,
wastelands strewn with the detritus of war games.
The babbling idiots of the political machine
Drummed up fear, selling patriotism.
Support the troops! Love your country!
Far off names, Basra, Balad, Baghdad-
alliteration at its most terrifying.
What trophies would you collect now?
Every knock on the door, every telephone ringing,
Tightened the vise around my heart.
Hastily written letters asking for more-
more gum, more jerky, more baby wipes.
More porn.
More love.
Mounted on your Bradley, you’d become a death-slinger.

——

You came back.
Your eyes projected mangled bodies,
heads strewn across the street like deflated soccer balls;
limbs detached from their owners.
Your mouth a nocturnal sewer of wailing and pleading.
Your hands around my neck when I woke you.

And I knew, but I would know not.
My boy was gone.
A hunter and a killer lived in your coil now.
You who chased war and death like the ice cream truck-
Give me money! Ice cream!
You had tasted it, dealt it.
The smile, once easy,
now tight lipped and false.
Your bluster, gone.
Did you win the bet?
No silver flask for you-better living through chemistry.
Support our troops!
They didn’t mean the broken ones,
the ones who came back
soulless, loveless,
clueless, sleepless,
lifeless.
They didn’t mean you.

—–

Once you realized you were
nothing
a plastic Indian, a shitty GI Joe
disposable,
no longer brand new in the box,
who could be blown to bits
with so little fuss
you reached for the only comfort you could find.
Which hurts more-
Killing a stranger-
or killing yourself?
The answer is in the ground.
Death-dealers in suits, warmongers in power-
Ye know what ye do.
May Death also find you-
And find you well.

 

~for Sgt Walter Padilla