Frances Richey's son, Ben, is a 33-year-old army captain who was deployed twice to Iraq and remains on active duty. "Ben's graduation from West Point in 1998 was a huge celebration," Richey recalls. "These young men and women were ready to serve." She hesitates. "We had no idea what was coming." Now she finds herself unable to turn away from the ever-present news coverage and horrific images coming from the war zone. The poetry editor of the Bellevue Literary Review, a journal of fiction and nonfiction affiliated with New York City's Bellevue Hospital, Richey began writing these poems after Ben was called to action. "This is how I keep myself together," she says. Her poems are blunt, and Ben has read them all. "They tell him how I feel without my saying, 'I support you, but I'm scared you may never come home.'"

The following is a poem from Richey's collection The Warrior which will be published by Viking/Penguin in April 2008.


Kill School
By Frances Richey

That was the summer he rappelled
down mountains on rope

that from a distance looked thin
as the dragline of a spider,

barely visible, the tension
he descended

into the made-up
state of Pineland

with soldiers from his class.
They started with a rabbit,

and since my son was the only one
who'd never hunted,

he went first. He described it:
moonlight, the softness

of fur, another pulse
against his chest.

The trainer showed him
how to rock the rabbit

like a baby in his arms,
faster and faster,

until every sinew surrendered
and he smashed its head into a tree.

"They make a little squeaking sound,"
he said. "They cry."

He drove as he told me:
"You said you wanted to know."

I didn't ask how he felt.
Maybe I should have,

but I was biting
off the skin from my lips,

looking out
beyond the glittering line

of traffic flying
past us in the dark.

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