Ghost Battalion

Ghost Battalion
Aleksei Valentín

I’m thanked for my service
as we shuffle past
the scant embers of a man
who could never forget
that he had been
a soldier once, and young.
The honour guard sizes me up
and decides that I, too,
wear the weary pack
of sixty pounds of memory,
rank with sweat and fear and death.
That I, too,
belong to a battalion of ghosts,
dead soldiers whose bodies returned,
but little else.
That I, too,
am a casualty of unending war
and my wounds are visible
in my crutches and dark glasses.
I don’t know what to say.
I have borne the burdens
without the uniform.

Is it service
to be the keeper
of secret atrocities
and know how much a dying man weighs
when you drag him
through a wet jungle
and come through with
a corpse, nothing more?
Is it service
to hold in mind
all the broken promises
and broken borders
that broke bodies, too?

I was fourteen when I learned
the first secrets
that made my father and uncles
scream in the night,
and laugh and cry in the humid summers,
five beers in,
and made them break a set
of bamboo wind chimes
my mother bought,
then hide in the barn
where the guns were kept.
Was this service?

But there will be
no three gun salute when I die,
no folded flag,
no spent shells,
no white tombstones in precise rows.
My reward is
that the ghosts and memories
will die with me,
and my service will end.
I was drafted
into a war that ended
seven years before I was born,
and I still see the casualty lists
every night in my mind.

My mother was surprised
by the volley of gunfire.
I lost that luxury long ago.
I only feel the heat and weight,
as if I trained with them,
the ghosts aligning their memories
with my body
and standing at attention
when Taps begins
for another last time.

Aleksei Ilídio Valentín is a queer, trans, disabled, Jewish Latinx grad student by day and writer by night. He lives in Western Maryland with his husband and fellow writer Lev Mirov, and two spoiled cats. Currently, he’s working on an MA in disability, health, and ballet, and fitting in time for poetry, fantasy, and romance. Since lockdown began, he’s been improving his French press coffee technique and trying to avoid Zoom unless strictly necessary for ballet classes. His poetry has previously appeared in Liminality and Sunvault anthology, and joint poly queer fabulist romances with their husband, The Penninsular Kingdom and The Faerie States, are in progress on To see where he’s rolling next, connect with him at