Poem: White Gloves

Steve Nolan, a 30-year military veteran and 25-year mental health professional, wrote this poem about his experience with bereavement counseling for the U.S. government.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

This poem was originally published in the River Heron Review.

White Gloves

Dorothy let me in

because I’d seen Afghanistan,

roamed the same territory

that killed her son – a roadside bomb

negating all his combat skills.

She offered coffee, pastry she’d made

for my visit. I accepted — God help anyone who wouldn’t.

I don’t remember the confection but I 

remember childhood pictures, the smiling 

second baseman, the high school football star, 

and finally the estranged daughter-in-law, 

the grandson she swore was an identical 

twin; her hands wanting, needing to hold

more than the picture. She said she’d heard

from the soldier who was wounded in 

the same blast, had talked with his mother,

that it helped – as had meeting 

the vice president and his wife at the Gold

Star family gathering in Washington;

how they showed sincerity and kindness.

She wanted me to know about Dover,

how the whole base stopped work

the moment her son’s plane touched down;

how they handled the casket with dignity,

how the white gloves moved in slow motion,

ushered him sacramentally on his way

to his resting place, how clean those hands,

how careful not to jostle the traveler,

how bright against their combat uniforms,

against the flag that draped the casket.

And when they slid their brother into the hearse:

the white gloves, empty of duty, paused

for one frozen second, like doves of peace

almost ready for flight.

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Picture of Steve Nolan

Steve Nolan

Steve Nolan spent 30 years in the military and 25 years as a mental health professional. He has published in numerous journals and his poetry was featured on National Public Radio, Morning Edition, upon his return from Afghanistan in 2007. He is the author of “Go Deep,” “Base Camp,” and “American Carnage, An Officer’s Duty to Warn.” His work reflects his commitment to social justice.

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