Veteran Day

The stars on the flag started falling off

when Private Walker returned home

to Tennessee after six months of being

in country in Afghanistan.

At Camp Leatherneck on the treadmill

he folded five points to pentagrams,

imagined fireworks nova his welcome back.

The flag rarely flapped in the arid silence

of base camp. Was MIA everywhere else.

He landed unmet in

Chattanooga on Veterans Day

in time to catch the parade highlights,

which happened two days earlier,

being ignored on the airport monitors

in the hustle of terminal traffic.

No flags decorated Broad street shops,

no watchers waived the red, white and blue.

Police motorcycles fronted the parade

and patrolled the back in sunglass alert.

Two Vietnam vets shouldering hunting rifles

marched grimly in parade formation followed

by alternating school bands and ROTC cadets.

All two thousand stars dripped down,

faded blue in the rush to show the next ad.

Every which way he looked

the rushing crowd turned his back to him.

He remembered Anousheh, the girl

whose name meant everlasting/immortal.

The child who hugged him,

kissed his forehead when he gave

her a Hershey bar from

his mom’s care package

while patrolling the base perimeter road.

The friend, the daughter, the grandchild

who died in a Taliban wedding bombing,

one week after her seventh birthday,

three days after their embrace.

His heart, his tears, his breath,

his every word was Anousheh.

All was and will be forever Anousheh.

And when he prayed

he prayed like Anousheh,

and on his knees at the airport

he faced her outbound heart

and prayed for a mutilated world.

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