War never ends
as easily as it begins.
You get your hands dirty,
do what needs to be done
to stop the fighting—
flee, surrender, sign treaties,
drive out the enemy, burn every village,
hunt down every villager—whatever
is necessary. Do that and the fighting stops,
the skies clear,
the stand-up comedians resume telling jokes,
the boys come home
and fall in love.
People on top will toot their horns
about how through pragmatic cunning and decisive courage
they forged a new era of peace and prosperity
but on the ground
there are leftovers.
Buried, awaiting discovery
are a finite but unknown number
of land mines corresponding
to a finite but unknown number
of bad days embedded across the surface of the future
like shrapnel. Men who long since beat
their swords into plowshares will wake up
in the night reliving terrors
they could never
and would never
describe to their wives.
Children who saw and heard things
no one should
will grow up knowing
the fragility of everything good
—every haven and every virtue
and every embrace—
and will fear to love.
Cancers caused by the residues
of war will grow in dark and secret places
erupting years or decades later
in men and women who created new lives,
in children who had nothing to do with it.
No one knows how far into the future
the tendrils of war can reach. No one knows how long
the land will take to heal. No one knows how long
until the wounds are only stories,
until the last hidden pools of anger and hatred,
fear and grief
finally dissipate. Still, men come home
and fall in love. Children play
under clear skies. Comedians tell jokes.
What else could they do?
Sometimes—especially after waking
from an unwanted dream—
I'm convinced that every emotion I ever experienced
awaits inside me, hidden away somewhere
and under the right conditions
—whether by freak accident
or the plottings of some centuries-old doomsday cult—
any one could come crashing back into the world.
Somewhere there's a secret government warehouse
full of these ancient artifacts
each with unique and terrifying potential
to destroy existence as I know it
stacked in row after row
of identical wooden boxes.
Rage over an old wound
that should be funny by now.
Love for a woman
happily married for years
who never wanted me
anyway, who was wrong
for me. Shame from middle school.
Painful and burdensome compassion
for people who don't want me
in their lives. Phobic distrust
of certain varieties of kindness.
All these and many others
in boxes nailed shut
yet fully intact
and potent as ever. I ask why,
why keep such dangerous items?
Who will ever need them?
Are they indestructible,
locked up here to keep them
from causing further harm?
Are they studied by historians and archaeologists?
Or are they kept as some sort of contingency plan
for a day when, God forbid, we need them again?
What kind of peace is this
when we sit on an arsenal
of world-devouring relics?
No one answers my questions.
They tell me they have Top Men
working on it.
When Jesus was resurrected
he still bore scars.
If heaven is real
will we keep our scars?
Will we seek out the ones
who turned their backs on us
and nag them to feed our sheep?
Will we remember
what we felt
when we shouted,
"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?"
Sometimes I hope
that when I die
I just die
and all my scar tissue
into something that has nothing to do with me.
I'll live out my natural life,
I'll fall in love and have children and tell jokes,
I'll make terrible and irrevocable mistakes,
I'll accumulate a lifetime of wounds
and learned loves and fears,
and I'll know that someday in the future
the last thread of my story will end,
the apocalyptic artifacts of my pain and passion
will crumble into dust,
and the rippling residues of my wars
will wash away
down rivers of quiet nothingness.
Imagining myself carried along
in that warm dissolution
like an infant gently rocked and shushed to sleep
—shh, shh, shh—