What the War Was Not - Kate Gaskin


Letters, weeks filing past
between them, long-necked like vees

of geese. Which outpost?
Which outpost?
You pouring sand

from your boots, your damp shirt
like another skin against 

your skin. You didn’t bring back
photos of the confetti 

bombs made of the building’s
rebar. I never had to imagine

the child’s foot severed
in the roadway. You never flinched. 

I never waited by the phone
for a year to catch 

a few ten-minute calls lobbed
like baseballs from across the sea.


Omaha like Hoth like the ice
castles of Erhenrang, tunnels of it
white        white

in the morning sun, the graveyard
beside our house        unmoored
headstones in a pale

body, undone. You somewhere
in Anbar swatting at flies
on the flight-line. Just outside 

the gate, a father
pushing his son in a wheelbarrow,
the back of his head

just gone.


I didn’t receive your letters
sweetheart sweetheart

sweetheart. You didn’t leave
me at the airport

on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t fall
and hit my head

on the toilet baby’s cries baby’s cries
or peer over hospital sheets,

IV lines, our friends holding
our son. There was no mastitis, no

antibiotic regimen, no mammograms, 
no needles drawing fluid

from my breasts. You were not
beside a dumpster behind Taco

Bell. You did not
tremble in the desert. 

You did not beg
me to stay.


I woke up on Bayou St. John
beneath the live oaks

and frisbees, the baby
asleep in his car seat. I nursed
in the cab 

of my father’s truck and read
your letters. 

You said
you’d seen the inside
of a heart, the inside 

of two cows, the red inside
of your eyelids

illuminated near-pink,
those mornings in your tent
when sleep left you.


There were no men
in service dress walking up

the front steps to our house
in Omaha, no house,

no baby, no bedroom
lit blue from snow, no chilies 

ground fine
in bowls. There was no 

flag, no thirteen-fold, or sheep
skinned and drained 

into buckets. You weren’t
over a radio

tower in your plane
with no

ejection seat, no parachute
your radio radio. The streets 

of the market
were not damp with blood.

The streets of the market
were not.

***Kate Gaskin's poem "What the War Was Not" won first place in our 2017 Pinch Literary Awards. Due to a formatting error in our journal, we've made the poem available online so that everyone can read this exceptional poem in its fully realized state.