POEMS

By
ANNE WARD-MASTERSON

DEPLOYMENT. (As published in Collateral Journal)

This vague anxiety

We’re feeling

Maybe it makes

Meals taste off

Tulips and daffodils of

Spring

Seem less vibrant

Grey days more

Sodden

This tightness just under

Your ribcage

Doesn’t wash off

In the shower

Spins thoughts

Around your mind

While you lie in bed

Too tired to chase them

Too tired to let them go

Sleep comes late

You surrender to

Wakefulness too early

Children can feel it too

A knotted fist behind

Their tender bellybuttons

Making their favorite meal

Unappetizing

bath time, tearful

instead of bubbling with

giggles

story time barely

soothes enough to make

eyelids heavy

you want to sleep

but crusted dishes

and heaps of knotted

grass stained laundry

distract you

until anxiety roars back

as nightmares or a wet bed

and you go back to soothing

Your child, yourself

Wait at home

Feeling powerless

To protect

Ones you love

Not under your roof

Can only love

From a distance

Just waiting for the

War against a tiny

Virus to be won

Let me name

This anxiety for you

We’ll call it

“The Deployment Blues”

Anne Ward-Masterson


Living. Not by the tug of
sun or moon. Nor hunger
or even exhaustion but by denying
those and pressing on with
the job. One where they pay you but
you’re the one who signs the
check. You see the world airport by
airport, base by base. Spend the night
in another billeting tent city,
before entering the box. Give
your letters to someone you trust,
in case this is your day. Spend life-
times eating sand. Realizing no
amount of baby powder keeps
it from sticking to or grinding
away the skin at your ankles,
upper thighs. Great guys on your right
and left, elbows in each other’s
ribs. Now, out patrolling,
take turns on point and
six. Back on base between workouts,
briefings, attempting to sleep.
Use humor to subvert rage you
don’t want to feed.
Clean your guns in the dark, to stay
sharp. Wish nights were still reserved
for deep kisses and phone calls home
that weren’t stilted by secrets: protecting
one another from anything
but good news, happy endings.
Stop holding your breath against
IEDs, snipers, and sandstorms that
foul the engines of aircraft.
The night before you rotate home: play
cards one more time. One. More. Stogey.
For a brother whose check got cashed.
For the kids, bring home the Lego corvette
maintainers grew bored with,
endlessly building and tearing down,
plush toys with the name of the
latest deployment country
stitched prominently on the chest,
purchased in an airport hundreds of miles
away from where sand ate at your heart.
The real souvenirs, sand and pollen,
wait in your A-bag.


What will you wear to the revolution
When you are sick of the plague?
Not the plague of novel Corona Virus
The gluttony that numbs us to the horror
Of millions of moms, brothers, friends dying
Because we need to “Open up for business!”
Without guidelines
Without personal protective equipment
For essential workers
Just a whole lot of prayers
And wishful thinking
Much like Mary Poppin’s
“Pie crust promises: easily made, easily broken”,
Prayers mean nothing if we haven’t
Done what work human hands are capable of, first.
So, what will you wear?
Sweat pants?
The power suit from the 80’s that still fits?
Your favorite pair of shoes?
Whatever we wear on our physical selves,
Dress our hearts in courage
Gird our spines with truth
Remake our tongues from compassion
We go forth to guard the ones
We are called to love
Even if we haven’t met them yet


Deployment Blues
This vague anxiety

We’re feeling

Maybe it makes

Meals taste off

Tulips and daffodils of

Spring

Seem less vibrant

Grey days more

Sodden

This tightness just under

Your ribcage

Doesn’t wash off

In the shower

Spins thoughts

Around your mind

While you lie in bed

Too tired to chase them

Too tired to let them go

Sleep comes late

You surrender to

Wakefulness too early

Children can feel it too

A knotted fist behind

Their tender bellybuttons

Making their favorite meal

Unappetizing

bath time, tearful

instead of bubbling with

giggles

story time barely

soothes enough to make

eyelids heavy

you want to sleep

but crusted dishes

and heaps of knotted

grass stained laundry

distract you

until anxiety roars back

as nightmares or a wet bed

and you go back to soothing

Your child, yourself

Wait at home

Feeling powerless

To protect

Ones you love

Not under your roof

Can only love

From a distance

Just waiting for the

War against a tiny

Virus to be won

Let me name

This anxiety for you

We’ll call it

“The Deployment Blues”

No Worries
Camping in a clearing amidst oak, spruce and sugar maple
Bedding down on dusty earth
After the campfire
Is thoroughly doused
Watching the bats momentarily blot out
Individual stars
Across the spinning sky window
In pursuit of dinner
II
At the beach in November
Despite
Wind off the churning violet sea
Cold enough to
Bring tears
Raise the color in my cheeks
Crack once moist lips
I stay long enough
For moon to wash away sorrow
Into the churning maw of the North Atlantic
III
At home,
Power out
Wood stove keeping the tail end
Of a blizzard at bay
Just warm enough to keep a patch
Of the floor boards warm
The pipes from freezing
As the moon peeps from behind
The last of the spent storm clouds
Enough light shines
To display the
Growing pattern of lacy
Ice crystals inside the window pane
A collaboration between nature
And the warm moist breath
Emanating from under my quilt
IV
Evening
Late spring
Windows open to catch a breeze
Sieved through screens
To keep mosquitos out
Hearing the crickets and peepers
Sing one another to sleep
All the noise and lights of men
Subsiding enough for nature
To untangle the knots of worry
In my soul

Snowdrops

What happens when the good news isn’t good anymore?

When the storms of hate precipitate snows of division and lies for so long,

They cause avalanches:

Roaring walls of snow bury all in their path

Uprooting truth, filling ears and mouths with ice crystals

Swallowing souls under feet of frigid lies

Immobilizing the quick

Leaving them to at least fear dying;

Choking on the truth their frozen tongues cannot utter

Ears filled with snow refuse to hear?

You looked at me, silent for 48 breaths;

Weighing words in your heart, feeling them in your mouth

Swallowing the first responses, too easy to say, too full of the memory of the storm

You pluck at the tools on your bench

Looking for the one with the right heft

You breathe like a bellows: chest rising and falling

Breaths audible as you line up words

On the page in your mind… then:

Cling to one another anyway

Make the small good larger by celebrating it

Thank one another for what you each do everyday

As though it is a precious gift (because it is) and finally…

Remember to be as brave as snow drops

Improbable little flowers with delicate necks

That push through snow banks left by fierce winter storms saying:

It is time. It is spring. Let us begin again.

To ventilate or not? 4-1-20

And now in our youth worshipping society,

I’m old

If I get this novel virus

They will look at my history of asthma,

The hole in my heart that never closed at birth

My G6PD Deficiency

And I WILL NOT

Get a ventilator

It’s not that I fear being dead

It’s that I know it will take days

For this tough old bird that I am

To give in

Give up trying to breathe

Through the mucus

Thick and sticky

Clogging my lungs

My airway collapsing

Like a straw in a creamy

Too thick milkshake

As my entire body strains

To pull air in

Just one more breath

Just one more

Just one

Just

Can I confess
When I first heard
This latest virus
Affects older people
People with under lying
Medical conditions
That doctors and nurses
Would have to triage patients
Choosing who lives
Who dies, But first,
Do no harm
(How can we inflict such a choice?)
That the young stayed carefree and
Were out partying
Whether to defy everything
(Honestly, how is kissing my
girlfriend going to kill grandma?)
Or as a desperate life affirming
Orgiastic fling
Before this virus lays
How many of us? down to sleep
Or some other reason
I purposely keep beyond my ken
And when the first politician
Told us
Grandparents
Should be glad to die
To save the economy
For their grandchildren
All I could think of
Was the last line
Of saving Private Ryan
Where the 80 year old man asks
His bewildered wife
“I am I a good person?
Did I live a good life?”
How do you measure that?
What measuring stick is long enough,
What scale can hold the weight of love or truth?
I don’t have an answer
Just that question looping around again
“I am a good person? Did
I live a good life?”

On the altar of the closing bell

You want me to die
To save the economy
You say it’s for all the children
But let’s be clear
Here and now
You think your portfolio
Is more important
Than a hug between
Married couples
Than story time
Or phone calls
To grandma
So just take your
Trickle down euthanasia
And shove it up
Your stock market
Get on your third best yacht
And sail it straight to hell
You deserve no less for
Sacrificing seniors
On the altar of the
Closing bell

I refuse to drink your
Kool Aid
I refuse to cause moral
Injury to any doctor
Or nurse by overwhelming
Our healthcare system
So your investments don’t get any worse
Suddenly the men who preached the
Pro-life point of view
Now tell me to kick the bucket
For grandchildren I don’t yet have
So just take your
Trickle down euthanasia
And shove it up
Your stock market
Get on your third best yacht
And sail it straight to hell
You deserve no less for
Sacrificing seniors
On the altar of the
Closing bell

All these millionaires
Telling me I’m expendable
That it’s patriotic to commit suicide
Maybe they’re the ones
Hoarding masks and ventilators
So they won’t be the ones
To actually die
What will you tell all the children
When they look you in the eye?
Whatever you say I hope they reply:
So just take your
Trickle down euthanasia
And shove it up
Your stock market
Get on your third best yacht
And sail it straight to hell
You deserve no less for
Sacrificing seniors
On the altar of the
Closing bell

Terrier
Windy day
Neighbor’s for sale sign
Comes undone
Hangs by a single chain
Dances the samba
To its own clapping beat
The sun courts the snow
Touching every flake
Wind pushes the
Cold through my cap
Whispers secrets across the bay
Terrier dances in the field
Skipping, leaping, twisting
Sunlight and wind cavorting past
Only stopping to thrust
Her muzzle in the snow
For the hidden scent of grass