A Mother’s


Poems by:
Maritza Rivera Cohen

The war becomes real
in the next fifteen minutes
once you’ve read this book.


1.	Expectations

2.	They Gave Their Sons

3.	Camouflage

	4.        For Every Mother’s Child

5.	Perfect Number

6.	Encounter: Two Voices

          7.	No Why

          8.	Mother’s Day

          9.	Stop Loss

          10.	A Mother’s War

          11.	Wishful Thinking

          12.	Semper Fi

     For our sons and daughters who give us purpose and make us so proud.


He was born eager
ten weeks too soon
under weight and under cooked
he hadn’t finished baking.

He was scrawny and frail
and at 3 pounds, 15 ounces
I could hold all of him
in just one hand.

I went home empty handed
without a baby to show
worried and waited
for him to grow until
he too came home
a month later.

                      Now like then I worry
and wait for him
to be discharged

this time from a farther
and more dangerous place
than the hospital where he was born.

And like then I am so afraid
that something will go terribly wrong.

So I pray and pray and pray
(that his life was meant
for more than war
and will be spared).


How do I prepare
to give my child to war
without despair or fear?

I watch the winter deer
meander through the woods
and feel the billion pieces 
of my heart break apart
and fall as quietly
and cold as snow.

The temperature outside
has dropped to freezing
I must prepare
to give my child to war
without disdain or tears.

The bastards have decided
that this battle must be fought
but it is not their son’s or daughter’s
names that are caught in my throat.

I’m not prepared
to give my child to war
but someone has to.
but inside myself
it’s colder still.


Green and tan and brown
with weapons slung
across one shoulder:
butt up, muzzle down
is the fashion statement
for these soldiers.

Iraq is their intended runway.

Mothers and fathers
sisters and brothers
sons and daughters
are here to see them off to war.

They are brave; we are brave.

Those whose families are conspicuously 
absent: quietly mingle; keep to themselves; 
play video games or iPod tunes pretending.

Sometimes laughter erupts 
then awkwardly subsides. Pacing
follows numerous pizza deliveries 
and trips to the head.

There is an orchestrated chaos
about all this
Cameras, forced smiles
and nervous chatter
become numbing distractions.

At the staging area time melts
stings like hot wax on bare skin
and after hours of subdued foreboding
the buses arrive.

We’ve been dreading this moment all day.

Troops fall in and with each name called 
USO packages are handed out 
until every letter of the alphabet fills
the hungry seats.

Anguish attacks; we are defenseless.

Frantic farewells, tears and exhaust 
fumes choke the air.  The doors close, 
engines groan and the convoy 
of buses pulls out leaving hearts 
like gravel crushed in its path.

This is called Deployment.
I call it: a mother’s war.


The moon will keep
a watchful eye
on my son while
he is so far from home.

The stars will twinkle
in his eyes with
my prayers for 
his safe return.

Ancestors have seen
him grow from seed
to sturdy oak

and I will gladly
grow old and sleep
soundly in his shade.

(And I will gladly
grow old and sleep
soundly in his shade).


She is everything to him:
angel, demon, mother,
mistress, whore.

She accompanies him
everywhere and he keeps her
closer than his shadow.

He carries her around
muzzle up, butt down
with a full magazine
stuffed in her belly.

She protects him in ways
a cross, Star of David
or the Azabache he wore
as an infant no longer can.

He is safe from the evil
of foreign eyes when she
flashes her #181 like a smile.

She is mysterious and magical
(a palindromic prime)
and I bet she’s the only
lucky charm he really needs.


All day long my child had been sick
and was finally in bed asleep
while I ate a late supper.

First I heard a rumbling
like that of an approaching train
still unseen followed by a shrill whistle
then the impact that caved in the roof
shattering my world into fragments 
too small to reassemble.

I awakened surrounded
by darkness, dust and debris
my sick child lost to me
forever in the rubble.

Strangers found me dazed
and disoriented and directed
me to a nearby shelter.

Others there like me
were bewildered, bruised
and embittered 
by such destruction.

Porridge, prayers and
water sustained us.

In the morning we were dispatched
to the infirmary, other shelters
or back onto the streets to rummage
through what was left of our lives.

A young man approached me
said he knew where I could find
safety, lead the way through the chaos
into an alley off the main road.

We will find a place in heaven 
if we do this.

After the invasion
I was guarding my post
when two civilians
approached the checkpoint
from an alley off the main road.

It was my duty to say
what I’d been trained
to say in their language
and though the sounds I made
were foreign to me they should
have deterred them from advancing
but didn’t.  “Stop or I’ll shoot”, 
I repeated.

We approached a young man
in a foreign uniform.
I could feel a muffled pounding
under the bulky vest I wore
when the young man warned us
to stop.  We continued toward him

on a path to heaven
our thumbs pressed against
the detonator hidden under our vests 
as he raised and aimed his weapon.

We were about to enter 
the promised land.

I couldn’t tell if they understood
what I’d said but since they didn’t stop 
I raised and aimed my weapon.

I was about to do 
what I’d been trained to.

This encounter
has no happy ending
but whatever happens next…


I read about a woman who
recognized her son’s tattoo
in a photo on the evening news.

An unnamed soldier
(she knew it was her son)
had been captured and killed at war.

She learned about it watching
the plasma screen he’d bought
for her before he left for war.

She hadn’t wanted him to get it
(the plasma screen or the tattoo)
and now that’s all she’s left of war.


The loss of a child
is impossible to bear


It doesn’t get easier
the second or third time
and it’s not the going away
but the where and for how long
that make our goodbyes 
so unbearable.

If it were anyone else
going anywhere else
it wouldn’t matter
as much; but it’s you
going so far from home
that makes my heart ache.


A doorbell moment
happens unpredictably
to mothers of war.


Hey, Tony Orlando and Dawn
tying yellow ribbons around 
oak trees didn’t do much
to end Viet Nam.

So I tried red silk ones
around our dogwood
thinking it would work
better for Iraq.

I’ve realized that changing
colors or trees or wars 
doesn’t really matter.
Only coming home does.


After two long tours of dreading:
late night phone calls, the unexpected
ringing of doorbells and daily mail 

I received our son’s last letter
and have been staring at it for hours.

I swear I can hear it ticking
like the roadside bomb that took his life
(or is that my heart throbbing).

His friends will gather
at a bar somewhere
toss back three shots
in his honor

while my tears smudge
the squiggly handwriting 
on this letter

I wish had never arrived
I wish had never been mailed

that I wish
had never been written
by our son.

Maritza Rivera Cohen is a Viet Nam Era veteran who served as a Commissioned Officer in the Military Intelligence Branch of the US Army.  Her daughter also served in the US Army and her son in the US Marine Corps. Maritza has been writing poetry for over 30 years, published her first collection of poetry, About You, in 1998, has read her work in numerous poetry venues and her work has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and online publications.  She is also known in the DC poetry community as the founder of the Mariposa weekly poetry series that ran in College Park, MD from 1999 to 2002.

Her latest book of poetry, A Mother’s War, was written to share her thoughts and feelings during her son’s two tours in Iraq and to make the intensity of war a reality for everyone who reads it.

Maritza’a poetry appears in Milspeak Memo with her permission. 
A Mother’s War will be published Memorial Day 2009, and is available through booksellers and the publisher:

Word of Mouth Poetry Series
P.O. Box 21
Alexandria, VA  22313
ISBN: 978-1-888018-07-3
Word of Mouth is an independent
poetry series founded by Stephanie 
and Kwame Alexander in 2005

Copyright © 2009 by Maritza Rivera Cohen 
All rights reserved 

Cover art: Jordan R Cohen
Cover printing: Moira McCauley
Paper: Pyramid Atlantic
Laser Photography: Pyramid Atlantic