Finally the war was over
and we could go home but
my wife was wary. Those houses?

she said, watching the news.
Those stores? schools? police? Fake.
Don’t believe what you see.

Childhood. Wasps twitching on honey cakes,
and our game with the clay balls, hiding them
under the house—what was it called?

I phoned my brother. He couldn’t
remember. He wasn’t going back.
You hear “it’s hell, they’re starving,”

then, “such progress, it’s amazing.”
Who cares anymore. Let me be
unhappy where I am.

A neighbor who’d helped us
when we immigrated flew back
to check on family property.

Weeks later, I saw her
in the shade on her porch,
drinking tea.

                                How was it?
How long should we wait?

Her skin had darkened. Not tanned,
more like it came from inside her.

Wait a year. Five. Ten. By then, who knows—
maybe everywhere will be like that.

Everything looked too new. Ruins
all razed and dumped, the palace
a musuem and shops, the square

a civic theater. The supermarket
was like a supermarket, but the food
tasted like imitations of food we knew.

The library gates were locked.
Under renovation. Opening soon.

Of course our old house was gone.
Our new one was fine. Familiar,
like the groceries. The power

went out or we had no water
for hours, sometimes all day.
It’s just how things are here,

said our new neighbors. We tried
making friends, but their chatter
and ours sounded like a script.

We watched a lot of TV.
Scientists urged us to be vigilant
about eradicating invasive species.

Call your brother and ask him
to send some real toothpaste.

My wife spat in the sink, cupped
her hand under the faucet,
caught the thin, cloudy stream.

My brother didn’t answer.
No message. Toothpaste—
I just couldn’t say it.

That night, at the civic theater,
we saw a folk play. No story,
just symbols—an iron eagle

with a red tongue, iron bars
for feathers, wingtips curled
into blunt iron fists—and phrases

sung by a children’s chorus.
Wings of peace, bird of hope . . .

When we came home, the street
was dark. My wife found her flashlight
and led the way.
                                     Oh my god, she said,

look. The beam lit a heap of dark husks
in a mound on the seat of my reading chair.
Wasps, I said. They must have nested

in the walls. I wonder what killed them.
My wife was grabbing garbage bags
and handed me the broom: more mounds

on the dining table, in the laundry basket,
on the bathroom scale, in our bed.
She held the flashlight, I swept the bodies.

In the morning, bags were heaped
in front of every house on the block.

Now the power and water have stopped
for good. We left coffee cans in the yard,
hoping to catch rain. One day, packs

of batteries and cases of bottled water
showed up. My wife twisted off a cap,
sipped. Fake. Even the water.

At night, people come out
to scavenge. We hear them
rustling in our garden.

Days, my wife shuts the door
to her room, stays there reading
the same books she brought with her,

while I’ve been working
in the basement, ever since I dropped
a wrench on the concrete floor

and heard under the clang a muffled
echo. I took a mallet, tapped lightly,
heard it again, a buried breath. I heaved

the mallet, cracked the slab, pried
chunks away and found the burrow
someone had started, the shovel

they’d left. It feels good, digging, aiming
into the dark, feeling it resist, breaking it
down, shoulders sore, back sore, it feels

like it means something, this rhythm
of blade into dirt calling
come home        come home

you’re almost there

Brad Richard
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