The Language of Recompense
by Carolyn Adams


I am not young in this world.
My hands, my feet clutch
like arthritic claws.
His pension feeds me
the army officer's magazine,
with its easy speeches and flag-waving.
Welfare pays my lights, phone,
my book at the grocer's,
but no one visits me now:
not the chaplain, the insurance agent,
the sergeant from his old battalion,
our children.

I remember the funeral--
the weeping of mothers, sisters, wives,
songs gasped in ragged chorus.
I remember the triangle they gave me,
and how it bled into my hands.

The past is a bitter harvest
that ruins in the fields.
I cannot wring tears
from my barren memories.
His uniform hangs dumbly
in the closet, behind my old Halstons,
grown brittle with the dust of forgotten duty.

As taps elegantly lifted in a light rain,
I placed flowers at the stone that day,
but it was as if they were for a stranger.
I don't remember the marker now,
or even the cemetery it lies in.

Long ago I ceased to miss
his even breathing beside me at night.
I no longer count the times we coupled,
or measure the years spent
in government-issue houses,
in each city we passed through,
strangers to all but the officers,
their wives, the commissary clerks.

My days drift like curtains
in a feathering breeze.
In church, I sing the plainsong,
speak the litany,
recite the stations to a God greedy for grief
that I cannot satisfy.

I raise the flag,
nod at the sentry,
weary at his post.







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