By Natasha Rao
In these barracks, night speaks another dialect.
No longer does he fall asleep to the smell
of boiling milk or his brother breathing
cigarettes in the dark. He doesn’t yet know
the ways his body will change for a war
that doesn't happen in this country
he will soon leave. From now on he will grow
like sharpening. Tonight he is too eager and
cannot sleep, this last moment before they strip him
of childhood, have him believe the true war
is inside him. Tonight, he is still a boy of sixteen
who dreams of being a pilot, not to flight
but to soar, titanium wings fluttering
through the blameless air. He brushes the blanket,
this fleshy creature with no edges, not yet bruised
into the solemn duty of manhood.
Natasha Rao, "My Father’s First Night in the National Defense Academy" from Latitude . Copyright © 2021 by Natasha Rao. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.