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Wounded Men Seldom Come Home to Die


And this is why: when a wounded man comes home
to die (which is seldom) he comes in through the summer
kitchen, carrying his face before him like an armful
of kindling a visitor carries in on his way to the house,
nervous about asking if he can stay a few days longer.
His mother faints. He catches her and lays her down
gently on the linoleum. When his sister comes in
from feeding hogs to find her brother at the table
with his long legs kicked out and their mother senseless
on the floor, the poor girl sighs and unbuttons his shirt.
The wound isn’t visible yet, it’s still drifting around
inside his body, bouncing under his skin like a man
swimming under ice, trying to find the place
where he fell through. When the wound surfaces
that is when she’ll know whether or not he’ll live
but for now his eyes are calm and blue. He asks her
what boys have been bothering her. She tells him
she figures she can take care of herself. When their mother
comes to, she insists she’s fine and puts some coffee on.
As she pours him a cup from way high up like a waitress
she says, “I’m glad you come home. Now I’m going
up and lie down awhile. You two catch up. I never meant
our family to be all scattered like this.” Through the ceiling
they can hear her softly sobbing and know she’s lying
up there on her back with her sleep mask on. There’s blood
soaking through his white t-shirt now and his sister says,
“Let me see.” She blushes and says it isn’t so bad. He agrees.
They talk late into the night, knowing he’s going to die.
She leads him up to his boyhood bedroom, tells him there
are clean sheets on the bed. He thanks her and tells her
he thinks he might sit on the porch awhile, watch fireflies
like they used to when they were little. In the morning
the bed hasn’t been slept in and on the kitchen table
the only note he’s left are a few fireflies in a Mason jar,
holes punched in the tin lid so they all can breathe.

*A line from Stephen Crane’s The Black Riders
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