Letter to a Son at War

I thought of you this morning, no
you needn’t answer, it’s just that
I thought of you. I was in the loft
to throw down the hay; the first
bale broke and blossomed wide
as if flowers dead and pressed
inside had come to life again.
Dust rose on the air and the sun
struck swords of light through knots
and gaps between the boards, and then
I saw you. Kneeling
in the ghastly white of slow
descending flares, your many
shadows shifting dancing on
the rhythm of the fall, your face
as fragile and dangerous
as a looking glass.
I threw down two more bales
and looked again, but the salt wave
of distance troubled my eye like heat
above a pavement. So I went down
the ladder to finish the chores,
chores I would have sent you to do,
if you were still here. The cows all turned
their tan-dark eyes to see their hay,
or perhaps to see if I were you.
Or if you were me. Cows, who’s to say?
I’m told they’re worshipped
in some places, and I wondered
half-seriously if I might try
to pray to them, except
I couldn’t imagine what I ought to say.
Thinking now, something simple,
perhaps a bedtime prayer
from childhood might even be enough.
Do you know one?
There, you see? This
is what it comes to: foolish notions
carefully packaged and sent away,
not knowing whether they’ll arrive
or what they’ll mean if they do arrive.
Except I know I never meant this,
I never meant to send any
complaints into a desperate war,
one labored page then waking late
to wonder, whatever did I intend?
Let me offer this instead, a bargain
of sorts: If you will find me
changed when you return,
only this, nothing more, nothing
difficult like love; if you will do it,
I will engage to search your face
for wounds to be regretful of.