From the Cradle

Eighteen years old and off to war;
my mother broke in the idea
of the child she nursed, nursing
filthy habits and PTSD
with longer prayers and a religious
texting ritual. Everyday, one message,
without exception:
I love you. –Mom
Rarely a reply.
She set alarms to remind her
as if she could forget., and I asked once,
teasing, why she didn’t love me too
since she’s always “loved us
equally”. She looked startled,
and everyday after,
she sent two messages, same words,
with only one reply. Radio silence
is something they taught him well.
The time to wean him
from routine drills and supervised
exercises in favor of active combat
with its strict pass/fail curriculum
drained her of more than her hair
color, and after four months
deployed in sweltering heat
and no cell reception, life goes on
for us at home, nothing to do
but wait in the spaces
between prayers. I’m there
in the background,
in the foreground; I stayed
my ground, but she is only ever there
on the battlefield. She feigns calm
and keeps her phone
close, always. I rarely
have reason to check my empty inbox
anymore, since she hasn’t loved me
since he left.