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poetry The Man Who Came Back

The casualties of a seemingly invisible war are brought home in J. L. L. Kroll’s poem about a single veteran.


The Man Who Came Back

By J. L. L. Kroll


The man who came back

from the war all wrong

used to belong here. Now he sits

barefoot in the middle of a lawn

with a guitar and wanders

the downtown in dirty clothes, toting

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two bags of newspapers. With his long

hair and eyes like traffic lights—

alternating blank and panic-pain—he

is a sore that should be hidden. So your

mother seems to think. “It’s a shame,”

she declares, as if someone slovenly

had left a broken washing machine

on their front porch too long.

Every night, your father listens to

news of the faraway war. But to you,

the barefoot man with the bags

is the only solid evidence that war exists.

He is what you see inside your mind

when any adult around you dares

carelessly to name it.

J. L. L. Kroll’s poetry has appeared in journals such as FaultlineCalifornia QuarterlyCold Mountain Review, and Talking River Review. Kroll’s chapbooks, Ghost Town Girls and Pantheon, are available on and from other online booksellers. J. L. L. Kroll grew up in Wisconsin, and many of her poems are set in crumbling towns and cities of the Upper Midwest. She is currently working on a collection of poems that explore the intersection of corporate greed, environmental degradation, and human illness.