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“Stateside” by Jehanne Dubrow

Stateside by Jehanne Dubrow is a collection of poems that serve as a renewed identity for each military spouse past or present. This is a rare find, as most war related poems center on the soldier and most obvious victims; typically forgetting about those left behind. Dividing her book into three sections, Dubrow gives a glimpse into the hidden tortures, fears, insecurities and realities of the often forgotten plight of the military spouse. Part one explores the tensions that occur during the pre-deployment phase. With a witty playfulness, in part two, Dubrow compares herself, and other military spouses, to Penelope from Homer’s The Odyssey.  In part three, Dubrow reveals the mental and physical progressions that occur within the spouse as she (or he) prepares for the return of their beloved. She approaches each subject from a unique slant to explore the depths of loneliness, stagnation and despair balanced with befriending the self, personal growth and hope that a spouse experiences through the course of life during the deployment. She captures the stages of physical and mental changes that occur during this difficult time with authentic details that allow for those who haven’t experienced this life to get a feel for the deprivations a spouse deals with during a deployment.

Penelope, Stateside

On an island called America,

start fantasizing of the sex

you had with him. Go shop for bra

and lacy thongs at the PX,

black garters, bustiers, a cream

that leaves your body woven silk,

a self-help book for self-esteem,

a bag of M&Ms, skim milk

to keep you thin, and Lean Cuisine

(you hate to cook for one). Or buy

a pair of True Religion jeans,

the denim pressing on each thigh

so that there’s no sensation but

blue fabric like a second skin,

no lover’s touch more intimate

than the zipper pressing in.

But don’t forget. He may come home

so torn that purchases won’t mean

a thing, not the Posturepedic foam

pillowtop mattress, or the sateen

duvet. He won’t be satisfied—

by eiderdowns or bedspreads sewn

by hand – still numb, because he’s stateside

and dreaming of the combat zone.

“Penelope, Stateside” (28) is one of my favorite poems as it shows the juxtaposition between the wife’s preparations for the husband’s return and how he may not immediately appreciate all she is doing to prepare because his body will have returned, but his mind will linger in the combat zone.

Dubrow serves as the civilian’s interpreter of ‘maritime terminology’ throughout this book so that it can be read by those within and outside of the military community. One of my favorite poems titled “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (15) is translated by the teenage opposable thumb as wtf or as ‘what the fuck’, for a more straight-up version. I have shared this book with many military spouses and each one comes back with this poem as the first that they mention. The anger towards a newly discovered deployment is raw and nearly animalistic. Dubrow captures this perfectly within this poem and smartly shoves the military’s own lingo in its face while allowing the collective spousal ‘birdies’ to fly freely.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has experienced a military family member’s deployment or anyone that is curious as to what the experience is like for the spouse. Dubrow is a gifted poet who has accurately captured the experience of millions of spouses throughout history in this one collection of poems.

Recommended by Julie Dymon

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