POEM XVIII: “RED SHIRT”

Before they blow you out of the hatch,
they take a picture of your teeth
to help with identification later.
They take fingerprints and DNA samples
and hair and blood,
anything they want.

Then they shave you
and implant a tracker
which doesn’t work
and they give you a map and a set of coordinates
and a vague idea of what you’re looking for, and they say
“Welcome to the Corps,”
right before they shove you out into a glittering hell
or ice and minerals and knifing winds that rape away your warmth in seconds,
leave you howling for the ship like it’s your mother.

They’ll make a television show about your life,
later on,
when you’re a wet net of hair
stuck to a rock somewhere.

You’ll get eight seconds.
It won’t be realistic.
Try not to be bitter.

The red shirt always signaled blood.
Seventeen percent survival rate
and no retirement plan.

But if we were not drawn to explore distant lands
there would be no red shirts at all
and the Sioux
would be the only people who ever got to say
they were from Iowa.

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