Why I Never Wrote about the Army

Karen Skolfield
Photo by Thomas Shellberg

Four hours a night 
and we slept with our rifles,
strap twined around skinny forearms,
brass and ammo locked away
and catch on safety.
Drill Sergeant Robinson warned 
that if he snuck 
into our shelter halves
and nabbed a rifle, 
why, we’d be pushing
Fort Dix off the map. 
We laughed, our voices too high,
our camouflage paint cracking 
into frightened, toothy grins.
He held a rifle over his head:  
“For the next eight weeks, 
this is your boyfriend!”
I thought, “girlfriend.”  

No one in my platoon
breathed a word the nights
Alexis crept into my bunk.
After full-pack road marches I’d wake
screaming from a charley horse,
animal sounds ragged
and out of touch with the night.
They were glad I had someone
to smooth my cramped muscles 
and shut me up. And everyone 
was so far from home.
Latest rumor was that
a girl in the next platoon 
was getting discharged
for being queer
and I asked my ranger buddy 
to point her out
but she couldn’t, and me dying 
to know what one looked like.

Karen Skolfield’s book Frost in the Low Areas (Zone 3 Press) won the 2014 PEN/New England Award in poetry. Her new poems appear in BoulevardThe Carolina Quarterly, Crazyhorse, GuernicaSlice, and elsewhere. She is an Army veteran who teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.