Skip to main content

poetry Quartering

What it means to bring a war back home is the subject of Seema Reza’s searing poem about our soldiers.



By Seema Reza


The Third Amendment of the United States Constitution: No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.


When the soldier knocks on your door, billet book in hand,

move aside to let him enter. He will wipe his feet, remove his hat

          (you’ll learn to call it a cover)

          he will be polite, place his rifle by the door

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)


Treat him with reverence, keep your fear hidden from view.

When the question of whether he’s killed bubbles up in your throat,

          thank him instead        for his service,

          say you can’t imagine the sacrifice


When little streams of sand pour out of his pockets

and form mountains on your floor, be gracious—

          look away while he sweeps the grains

          back into the creases they emerged from


Make small talk with the soldier you are quartering,

invite him to eat with the family, make space for him

in front of the television, catch him up on celebrity gossip

he missed at war


Offer to make up the couch, though it is likely he will decline

and unroll his sleeping bag; he’s grown unused to comfort 

He will have identified weaknesses

          in your floor plan        

          and adjusted for them 

Insist on providing a pillow     to ease your conscience 


If you come out for a glass of water in the middle of the night,

see the orange pill bottles lined up on the granite counter

He may tell you what they’re for or you can guess


when your children complain at breakfast

about their sleep interrupted by his night terrors

          shush them     

Order a noise machine to obstruct his screams

          Tell them this is only temporary


When he steps out to smoke a cigarette in the dark try not to see

the glowing deposits of depleted uranium beneath his skin

            turning his body into a constellation of half-lives


Soon you will call a warning before you switch on

the garbage disposal and coffee grinder,

apologize when the door slams

reassure him when the neighbor’s car backfires

          never leave the door unlocked


He will begin to tell you stories in which violence is the setting,

not the point, a piece of the landscape of the places he has visited

Then he’ll tell you what he knows about death

          Do not flinch

          If he cries, nod.


You notice yourself worrying when America bobs in place    

watching the world, ready to pounce like a double-dutch champion

          The word troops means something different

          when you’re quartering a soldier


You may notice him making plans, initiating conversation

sitting down more often to beat the kids

at video games

His laughter less a cough, his anger more a flash

of lightning than a storm


You will wish to share his burden, sleep without the sound barrier

hear his cries in the night

For all his straight-backed composure

                        he is no machine                     

Lie awake and wonder if this is worth the tax incentives


You’re in too deep now, but remember your words—

this is only temporary—

orders will arrive and his bag—never fully unpacked—

will be shut tight, his boots laced, his dusty rifle cleaned


Feel the tension in his parting embrace

the recoil as he adjusts his cover

and looks away from your tears           Realize

your every act of kindness has been an act of war.


“Quartering” was originally published in the Bellevue Literary Review.


Seema Reza is the author of the memoir When the World Breaks Open (Red Hen Press, 2016) and a forthcoming collection of poetry (Write Bloody, 2019). An alumnus of Goddard College and VONA and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her writing has appeared in print and on-line in The LA Review, The Feminist Wire, Bellevue Literary Review, The Offing, Hematopoiesis, Entropy, and Anomaly, among others. She is the Chair of Community Building Art Works, an organization committed to building veteran and civilian dialog through a unique military hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care, and socialization.