haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2005, vol 1 no 3

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Katherine Cudney

Return to Sender

Ten o'clock at night. Along the main road running through our small town, hundreds of people gathered to wait for the body of SSGT Shannon Taylor to be escorted back home. Killed in Iraq, a roadside bomb. Arrival time delayed because local authorities didn't take into account the military protocol at the airport before the family could receive his remains. Nonetheless, a somber, patient, silent anticipation. Candles relit, flags and banners unfurled, when word finally came that the procession was nearing the traffic light in the next town over. My son's sleepy eyes on his Dad.

blue strobe lights
pierce the darkness
my husband's salute

The next morning I attended the visitation. Thought there would be more pomp and circumstance, more people. Instead the room was hushed and sparse. I entered hesitantly, not knowing the family, not wanting to impose on their grief. The flag, which draped the casket, was wrinkled. Almost without thinking, I ran my hand across it to smooth away the creases. The morbid questions that cropped up as I tried to envision him lying inside. How much of him was left to send home? I thought of my son and the time he spent developing in my womb. Wondered if the young soldier's mother was having similar thoughts.

in lieu of flowers--
boyhood photos
pepper the wall

Today, the funeral. Use of the largest church in town has been offered to accommodate the anticipated crowd. News media in attendance outside the doors. A TV reporter asking people to share their thoughts. No one obliges. Inside, we're ushered to the choir loft beside the pulpit. The rest of the place is standing room only. Piped through the sound system, the same uplifting song, over and over until the ceremony begins. The two ministers, who will be officiating, take their places on the dais. Their burdens are heavy, judging by the droop of their shoulders. The service is solemn, reflective, hope-filled and interspersed with a few of Elvis' gospel recordings. Various people discharge their appointed duties. Military representatives present duplicate medals to the divorced parents. As the pallbearers pass, I stroke my son's hair. He's fallen asleep against my shoulder. We forgo the interment, breaking away from the funeral procession to get a bite to eat at the local diner. Thankfully, life goes on.

dust to dust
the distant echo
of rifle fire

 

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