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When We’re Left Behind

by Shaun Fletcher

We always hope for more than a folded flag.
I close my eyes and find Justin blackened on rocks,
days dry and fractioned.

Some nights I find him in brush, a wince
tattooed on his face with one-hundred-fifty grains
filled with uniform blue ink.

I look for a dog tag, a smart mouth, a white bandana
matching the one I carry in my back
pocket, wrapped around shrapnel.

One night I found Justin in a dawn-lit bog.
My youngest sister kept my face from mud,
stitching her legs on my chest to walk me home.

If only he’d walk in with medals all over his chest
with the one arm hand-shake-hug of brothers –
medals with a true “d” and not the Jersey accent “t”.

We meet in his friend’s house, a surprise
visit for his birthday by all his brothers. Blood
accounts only one drop of this ocean.

The times I don’t find him, I brew coffee
percolated in our grandmother’s hands. We eat from her
living room. All of his pictures burst.

Justin and I in matching prom suits on prom night.
The glass spiders and smokes.
Our smiles eaten by sleep.

Fletcher is a North Jersey poet, science teacher, motorcycle tourist, and a proud Air Force brother (cousin by blood, brother by experience). His work often attempts to understand the connections and distance between people using science, the mind, and the road as common mediums.