The Geography Lesson


In Binghamton, New York
I sat with my babysitter, Walter
In the living room
Listening to him talk about the world.

My mother was in the kitchen talking on the phone.
My father was working late at Montgomery Wards.

In Binghamton, New York
I listened as my baby brother cried for some attention
In his swinging chair trapped between two worlds
From the kitchen to the living room, and back again.

I wasn’t interested; my sitter had my full attention.
I wasn’t interested; my sitter showed me the world.

In Binghamton, New York
I watched the world as my sitter flicked from picture to picture
Traveling from Detroit and Washington to Moscow to Beijing
From place to place until I visited a little country called Vietnam.

This was a new place to me.
This was a new truth for me.

In Binghamton, New York
I listened to the number KIA, MIA and enemy killed
Where was the loving God of my parents I wondered
What was war and death and fighting and country and truth.

Have we done something so wrong we have been forsaken?
Have we done something so wrong we are being punished?

In Binghamton, New York
I heard no answer to my queries, no response from my parents God
Hearing only the voice of my sitter and the feeling of the carpet beneath me
I knew I was alone. I was only five.

And I looked around the house and saw it for the first time.
And I looked at my hands and I saw these were the true weapon of war.

In Binghamton, New York
I listened as my sitter withdrew from the screen
Hearing only the echo of his voice wish me good night and this was the news
“…for January 5, 1973.”

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