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List of Cross-Dressing Soldiers

First there was Helen of Sparta, who did it only
with oil, no one knows how; then there was
Maggie of England, who even on the battlefield
put men back together; and then there was Rose
of the deepest South, who stood up in her father's
clothes and walked out of the house and herself.

Disguised women were always among them.
They badly wanted to wear blue, they badly
wanted to wear red, they wanted to blend
     with the woods or ground. Together
with men they were blown from their pronouns.
Their faces too were shot off which were then
free of their bodies. "I never had any dolls I only
had soldiers. I played soldier from the minute
I was born. Dropped my voice down almost
into the earth, wore bandages where I didn't
need them, was finally discovered by the doctor,
           was finally discovered at the end."

Someone thought long and hard how to best
make my brother blend into the sand. He came
back and he was heaped up himself like a dune,
he was twice the size of me, his sight glittered
deeper in the family head, he hid among himself,
and slid, and stormed, and looked the same
as the next one, and was hot and gold and some-
                                       where else.

My brother reached out his hand to me and said,
"They should not be over there. Women should not
be over there." He said, "I watched people burn
to death. They burned to death in front of me."
A week later his red-haired friend killed himself.
And even his name was a boy's name: Andrew.

A friend writes to him, "My dress blues are being
altered for a bloodstripe." That's a beautiful line,
I can't help hearing. "Kisses," he writes to a friend.
His friend he writes back, "Cuddles." Bunch of girls,
bunch of girls. They write each other, "Miss you,
brother." Bunch of girls, bunch of girls. They passed
the hours with ticklefights. They grew their mustaches
together. They lost their hearts to local dogs,
                         what a bunch of girls.

I sent my brother nothing in the desert because
I was busy writing poems. Deciding one by one
where the breath commas went, or else it would
not stand and walk. This was going to be a poem
about release from the body. This was going
to be a poem about someone else, maybe even me.

My brother is alive because of a family capacity
for little hairs rising on the back of the neck.
The night the roadside bomb blew up, all three
sisters dreamed of him. There, I just felt it,
the family capacity. My brother is alive because
the family head sometimes hears a little voice.

I had been writing the poem before the boy died.
It then did not seem right to mention that burn means
different things in different bodies. I was going
to end the poem with a line about the grass. But
they were in the desert, and I was in the desert when
I thought about them, and no new ending appeared
to me. I was going to write, "The hill that they died on
was often a woman, wearing the greatest uniform of war,
which is grass." I know my little brother's head. The scalp
is almost green, where the hair is shortest. I know
my little brother's head, and that is where the ending
lives, the one that sends the poem home, and makes grass
stand up on the back of the neck, and fits so beautiful
            no one can breathe—the last words live
in the family head, and let them live in there a while.

Patricia Lockwood

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals
Penguin Books

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