To the Young Second Lieutenant Standing Behind Me in Line
at the Keesler AFB Post Exchange in 1987 (Biloxi, Mississippi)
No one looked after me or my brother back then, no CPS,
no Social Workers, the SP’s couldn’t be trusted,
the off-base cops even worse.
When the P-EX mini-mart clerk told me
I wasn’t supposed to be there
and had to leave my Pork & Beans
and bread on the counter, you caught up to me in the parking lot,
my items in your tote bag.
I got caught stealing a sleeved stick of butter
the week prior, but today had returned
with the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin I found in the gutter.
All I had was that and my pocketknife for opening cans and gutting fish,
the reason my privileges were revoked.
I wish I had answered your questions—What’s going on?
Why can’t you shop here? Where are your parents?
before darting off into the night with the can and bread,
dropping the piece of money at your feet.
Copyright © 2023 by Rob Greene. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
“This memory from 1987 came back to me in 2020 and I had to process it, so I made this poem. The female second lieutenant represents all those who tried to help me and my brother Chris at that time. I am especially grateful to the Santiagos on Keesler Air Force Base who first spoke to our father, who had just returned from a year-long assignment in Belgium so he could find us kids, who were living in squalid conditions on the streets of Biloxi for one long year.”