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By Seema Reza

The Third Amendment of the United States Constitution: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

When the soldier knocks on your door, billet book in hand, move aside
to let him enter. He will wipe his feet, remove his hat
                            (you’ll learn to call it a cover)
                            he will be polite, place his rifle by the door
Treat him with reverence, keep your fear hidden from view.
When the question of whether he’s killed bubbles up in your throat,
             thank him instead           for his service,
             say you can’t imagine the sacrifice

When little streams of sand pour out of his pockets
and form mountains on your floor, be gracious—
               look away while he sweeps the grains
               back into the creases they emerged from

Make small talk with the soldier you are quartering,
invite him to eat with the family, make space for him
in front of the television, catch him up on celebrity gossip
he missed at war

Offer to make up the couch, though it is likely he will decline
and unroll his sleeping bag; he’s grown unused to comfort 
He will have identified weaknesses
             in your floor plan
             and adjusted for them 
Insist on providing a pillow     to ease your conscience 

If you come out for a glass of water in the middle of the night,
see the orange pill bottles lined up on the granite counter
He may tell you what they’re for or you can guess

when your children complain at breakfast
about their sleep interrupted by his night terrors
             shush them 
Order a noise machine to obstruct his screams
             Tell them this is only temporary

When he steps out to smoke a cigarette in the dark try not to see
the glowing deposits of depleted uranium beneath his skin
              turning his body into a constellation of half-lives

Soon you will call a warning before you switch on
the garbage disposal and coffee grinder,
apologize when the door slams
reassure him when the neighbor’s car backfires
              never leave the door unlocked

He will begin to tell you stories in which violence is the setting,
not the point, a piece of the landscape of the places he has visited
Then he’ll tell you what he knows about death
             Do not flinch
             If he cries, nod.

You notice yourself worrying when America bobs in place
watching the world, ready to pounce like a double-dutch champion
               The word troops means something different
               when you’re quartering a soldier

You may notice him making plans, initiating conversation
sitting down more often to beat the kids
at video games
His laughter less a cough, his anger more a flash
of lightning than a storm

You will wish to share his burden, sleep without the sound barrier
hear his cries in the night
For all his straight-backed composure
                            he is no machine 
Lie awake and wonder if this is worth the tax incentives

You’re in too deep now, but remember your words—
this is only temporary
orders will arrive and his bag—never fully unpacked—
will be shut tight, his boots laced, his dusty rifle cleaned

Feel the tension in his parting embrace
the recoil as he adjusts his cover
and looks away from your tears             Realize
your every act of kindness has been an act of war.

Added: Wednesday, April 4, 2018  /  Previously published in "Bellevue Literary Review" in 2015. Used with permission.
Seema Reza
Photo by Nazia Abbas.

Seema Reza is the author of the memoir When the World Breaks Open (Red Hen Press, 2016) and a forthcoming collection of poetry (Write Bloody, 2019). An alumnus of Goddard College and VONA and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her writing has appeared in print and on-line in The LA Review, The Feminist Wire, Bellevue Literary Review, The Offing, Hematopoiesis, Entropy, and Anomaly, among others. She is the Chair of Community Building Art Works, an organization committed to building veteran and civilian dialog through a unique military hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care, and socialization.

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