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Darby Ratliff

The wives’ support group
disbanded when our husbands returned
from the war.
People said, “Oh, Penelope,
aren’t you glad he’s home?”
but we never thought he’d
have to go in the first place,
that he’d be called out of reserves,
redeployed for twenty year-long months.
He came home, broken down
to Nothing—the sole survivor
of IEDs and “Oh, please, save me’s,”
but he came cloaked in a disguise
that he has yet to take off,
somehow decades older, and
I have yet to believe that this is my husband.
Sometimes, he tells me stories
of his “Odyssey,” of what came after the cities
burned. The doctors talk of the fire in his mind, that
epic tales are coping mechanisms,
but I fear he is lost at sea.
Our son listens each day to tales
of men called pigs, lost comrades
reduced to animals for slaughter,
of prizes of war, the Bronze star
tucked ashamedly into his desk,
of war making men of boys, some
of whom didn’t come home.
I wait and weave, navigating the personal perils
of Scylla and Charybdis, and wonder
who has the greater burden—
the man made mythic,
who sings of his glories or
the woman who holds his hand
when his tales turn against him in the night?