Body Count

Victoria Lynne McCoy


My sister can’t check herself in at the airport anymore.
Newly married, she wears her husband’s foreign name,

a proud title she curls her mouth around,
its prayer-like vowels the soft explosion

of overripe fruit. In Houston, she waits
for a uniform to deem her harmless

and somewhere off the docks of the Hudson
I find myself giving in to a man who has offered me

a tour of the naval ship, his tongue thick with Tennessee.
While he points out each displayed weapon,

I stare at his immaculate boots, the strange shapes
the words make in his chapped Southern lips.

His palm softens against the small of my back
as he explains how the deadliest machine works,

where he hooks his feet along the barrel. He tells me
he can kill a person from eighteen miles away; he tells me

I am beautiful. It will be weeks before he admits
he knows his exact body count. That he feels sorry

for their friends. My sister isn’t angry
when she travels, even as an unstoppable heat

ravages my cheeks when she calls to confirm they landed
safely, that her husband collected their rifled-

through suitcases again and continued without
further incident. In the corner of my room, a poster

preaches peace. The button-down belonging to a Sergeant
in Special Ops drapes over the back of a chair. I am a stranger

in this reluctant skin, and I reach for him,
my breath expiring against his startled chest.