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118th Weekly Poetry Contest winner: Hero

by Mary Soon Lee

To wait.
To answer
when their children ask
when Papa will be back.
To nod when people, well-meaning people
tell her she must be so proud
of her husband--
that he's a hero--
that word--
To wake.
That space beside her in the bed.
To meet with those
he isn't there to meet.
To eat.
The food delicious.
The guilt of that.
To hear his deeds
cast into story, song
and he the hero--
a word she's come to hate--
To sleep
curled around his old jacket,
the smell of him.
To decipher the tiny cramped characters
of a note sent on a pigeon's leg.
To write
and to not beg him
to return.
To speak with soldiers
shaken by what they've seen,
exhausted by their horses' haste,
their news partial, dated;
though they do not voice the word,
it's written on their faces
when they speak of him.
That light.
To find an answer
the first time Keng, their eldest,
asks not when, but whether
Papa will be back.
To lie awake,
wondering how it would be
to hold the sword herself. 

(First published in Star*Line)

See all the entrants to 118th Weekly Poetry Contest