Skip to main content

The Tomb Guard, Arlington Cemetery

by Kevin Klein

They drained this swamp two hundred years ago
but didn't dry the air out half a damn.
Sweat rolls down the inside of my shirt;
a crowd of patient foreheads glisten above sunglasses.

He walks that black-rubber carpet
like clockwork, stepping in the worn shoe-prints.
When we were kids, he couldn't sit still
through one half-hour of cartoons, His letters say

all they do is drill, And he kids me about my divorce
like it's some old joke between us. He dropped
his gun once, and was sore the next dry
from pushup., He twists and shoulders the sharp rifle

while staring straight ahead through mirror shades. Pretty good
for a kid who couldn't take off a starter with a socket set,
I wonder if beneath those shock-white gloves
last summer's grease still ruts his palms and nails.

He pivots toward the crowd, and cameras click
at the striding monument to sacrifice
who at eleven still wet the bed, and believed
in Santa Claus till he was twelve,

which was my fault. I feel the nation's pride
hinge on his precision, his flawless wool and cotton,
all symbol but the black tag: MORRIS.
His monkey suit's still hanging in the shop,

oiled smooth, his name in white cursive: Shane.
He could have been my assistant manager. But I guess
he's got a higher ladder to crawl here. lt's too bad
I forgot my camera. I wrote him once

to ask if there really was a soldier
buried in the Unknown Tomb, He didn't know.