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Silence tends to make me fear rejection.
It’s an old female fear,
as old as an unanswered smoke signal,
the irrational belief that somewhere in the empty sky
a man is angry
instead of simply out of firewood.

But this is a different silence,
silence in a darker sky.
Today is another day without word
and there is a breath that is not breathing,
a heart that is still,
a subtle self on hold.

Last week I trusted he was safe.
I came home to four emails,
news that they were nearly finished,
heading back to Bahrain,
stateside by June,
that I could write back now, and should,
and send poems and stories.

I had heard how vital mail is in a war zone,
the tie to home,
the boost to morale.
I sent three stories, two poems, a letter and two notes.

Then silence descended like night.

Thursday morning I woke to a New York Times article
on the number of soldiers who have died since the war ended,
from both incident . . . and accident.
So many were heading home.

Wild fear is naked silence.
The ears go first
the blocking of sound and thought,
the ocean pounding of the heart, drowning out everything.
It pushes at your back like wind
while you do dishes, call friends and clients,
make the bed, scrub the floor.

I have talked myself through statistics.
How many people die in accidents at home every month?
How many happen to be soldiers?
I talk myself through faith.
If it is his time,
if this is the full measure of his life,
he doesn’t have to be in a war zone.
I know this.
It doesn’t matter.
This is old stuff, wet and earthy.
This is the cellular memory of women,
the fear of men and dirt,
of the earth taking them back.

Friday night, another article.
Three more deaths in central Iraq, a total of ten this week.
The words swim across my computer screen:
this week.
But he was in Kuwait, heading to Bahrain.
It doesn’t matter.
In the silence, orders change.
People are dying.
Families are grieving.
Love didn’t protect them.
Or prayers.

And I can’t help feeling this —
though I don’t know why, or why now.
I wasn’t this scared when he left,
when he arrived in Iraq,
not even when he was near Baghdad.
But here it is: the ancient path of women,
to worry and pray and wait.

Sunday morning, another headline: Names of the Dead.
I looked at the screen for a long time,
wondering if I should click on it
or call someone to do it for me.
Reason would not have him there.
But fear is not reasonable.
Love is not reasonable.
Nor is war.
Or life.
Or most of what changes us.

I closed my eyes and prayed
Dear God,
Bless all of them.
Bless their families
Let them find comfort in their grief
And let him come home safely.

I said it two or three times before I clicked,
aware of how many people (how many women) were whispering the same.

He wasn’t there. But ten still were.
It was a tempered relief, like the pouring off of Passover wine.
How can we drink a full cup?

That night I looked for an old photo, one of the few I have.
It’s 1989. He’s in Italy or Greece, vamping
behind the headless, armless bust of a Roman statue,
arms as outstretched as his grin.
I took it upstairs and placed it on my altar.
There was resistance to the gesture.
The cliché of it, the drama.
But there are things that we do, the heart requires them,
and this was one.

I propped it against a triptych I bought on the Via Appia,
a small Madonna and child.
“I put him in the hands of the mothers,” I told her,
and also called on his and mine.
“Bring him home safe.”

The day he left I put him in the hands of God.
This moment was woman’s work

© Deborah Edler Brown 2003

First published in Sisters Singing: Blessings, Prayers, Art, Songs, Poetry & Sacred Stories by Women (CA: Wild Girl Publishing, 2009)