Painted Soldiers

March 29, 2008
When I was nine,
And your hair was as grayless as the rye
In Grandpa’s field, we went
Plunging into the lake behind the farm.
You and I.
You, the father. I, the son.

“Kick harder, Marc. Be strong.”

Remember that time
When I wasn’t strong enough
To fight the waves? And I crashed through,
Like an addled aircraft,
Straining, struggling,
Until you pulled me to the surface
And taught me how to hope again.

“Fix your eyes on the shore.
Keep fighting. Keep hoping.”

I used to play with painted soldiers,
Imagining glory in their black, barren eyes.
They marched to war
With rifles the size of my finger.
I wondered if you would someday leave me.
“Never,” you said.

I’m nineteen now,
An old man, because I’ve counted a thousand stars
Since you flew away.
Last night, I took that battered
Baseball bat you gave me for Christmas,
And hit a ball
Straight to the moon.
It never came down,
But I keep searching because someday,
I know I’ll find it again.

If the years
Are measured by laughter,
Then I’ve become older than time,
Since this morning, when I learned
You’re coming home.
And even though I…
I played with painted soldiers
While you…
You seared fire across the clouds,
We are one,
You and I.

And if I could have stood beside you
All those years,
If I could have
Flown with you,
Feared with you,
Fought with you,
I would have.
Except it doesn’t matter now
Because you’re home.
It doesn’t matter now
Because I’ve searched a sky of silence
To hear you say these words:

“My son.”

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