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.