A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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The workshop was just about to get started when somebody noticed
that Leah looked glum & distracted & asked what was wrong,
& Leah told us her daughter had called from Iraq that morning,
hysterical, screaming & weeping. Trained as an army clerk,
she’d been reassigned & was driving sniper patrols around
in a Humvee. The day before, they’d spied two guys
at the side of a road wiring an IED, & behind them, sitting
& playing, were two little kids. Leah said her daughter
kept screaming into the phone that her guys fired round after round
after round till the four were nothing but torn-open bodies
& skulls without faces in puddles of blood & her guys just kept
laughing & shooting & laughing & shooting & “Mom, they
were just little kids! Oh my God,” she kept crying. “It’s not right!
It just isn’t right!” We sat there, all of us, horrified, silent.
Till finally Karen said, “That’s awful, Leah!” & after a minute or two,
when no one said anything more, I started taking attendance.
Then we critiqued the first poem: an honest if somewhat
disorganized story of failed love. But of course it was still
on everyone’s mind, & someone, I think it was Teri, asked Leah
how old her daughter was & how long before she’d
get to come home. “It’s her second deploy,” Leah said quietly.
“She’ll be twenty in August. She’s got four months & six days
to go if her tour isn’t extended like last time & if . . .” She stopped
midsentence. No one said anything further. Like everyone
else, I kept my mouth shut, & we moved on to the next poem.