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.