A Mother, A Poet

2011 Blue Mountain Center resident Frances Richey wrote this poem after visiting her son, Ben Richey, an Army captain and Green Beret, while he prepared to deploy to Iraq in the fall of 2004. It is included in her collection, The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War.


2 pairs desert camo boots
sleeping bag
assault pack: NODs, ammo, night-vision goggles
wind-stopper gloves

These don’t belong to me.

Camelbak backpack for water
Kevlar helmet
MICH helmet
grenade pouches 
magazine pouches

I have no place here. This is not my life.

9-millimeter holster
equipment vest
same old ruck

He can’t bear my worry. Like the rucksack he carries
on his back, it seems 
to suck the life out of him.

socks … green/black
PTs — shorts, shirts for workout
SPEAR silk underwear for cold weather
SPEAR body armor … ergonomically correct
barracks bag for laundry
rain poncho and linerblack wool cap

I was always asking if he was warm enough.
Put a sweater on, I’d say. Your jacket …

duffel bag
entrenching tool
elbow pads
Nuclear, Biological, Chemical suit

I can’t protect him.

flu shot

No one could explain his nosebleeds. They always seemed to
come when I was packing for business trips: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit …

CDs: Springsteen, Sarah McLachlan, U2 …
DVDs: “In the Name of the Father,” “Boondock Saints,” “Elf” …
chewing tobacco

Tissues fell from him like crumpled doves.

pin light
“Case for Christ”
“Onward Muslim Soldier”
“Salem’s Lot”
“Catcher in the Rye”
laminated four-leaf clover

He tilted his head back, pinched his nose 
between thumb and index finger: 
“Don’t worry, I know what to do.”

Officer Record Brief
Hazardous Duty Orders
Zero Your Weapon

He’s given me his dog-eared copy of Komunyakaa’s 
“Neon Vernacular,” underlined: 
“We can transplant broken hearts/
but can we put goodness back into them?”

Life Insurance: to be split between Mom and Dad
Emergency Records … who gets called
battalion wants to know what to read
at your funeral, what songs to play

He looks up from the paperwork,
hard into my eyes:
“You said you wanted to know.”

Used by Permission.

Frances Richey is a poet and yoga instructor living in New York City. When her son deployed to Iraq in 2004,  Frances began writing poetry about her own experience and her son’s. Her first collection The Burning Point, published in March 2004, won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Poems from her new collection, The Warrior, have appeared in a two-page spread in O, The Oprah Magazine, Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column, on the Lives page of the New York Times Magazine, and the local PBS show “New York Voices.”

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