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My Substitute Warrior, a Poem by Michael Shoemaker

At the end of the news hour

they noted your death

in Afghanistan

and I pondered...

Just that morning

I cinched up the laces

of my hiking boots.

Just that morning

you cinched up the laces

of your US-issued army boots

for the last time

and last sacrifice.

I am no relation.

The only tangent

where we cross

is that you were from

Temecula, California

and in high school

I once ran a cross-country meet

in Temecula.

Through this silent media memorial

I find you are my age.

To my brother and surrogate

thank you for gifting me life

to see the light in my

unborn son's eyes,

for time to teach

my daughter to ride a bike

and to see

my thirtieth anniversary.

It may not seem worth the cost,

but it is everything and more to me.


Michael Shoemaker is a poet, writer, and photographer. He is author of Rocky Mountain Reflections (Poets’ Choice, 2023). Michael is a winner of the California State Poetry Society Prize and is on the shortlist for The Letter Review Prize for Poetry. His writing has appeared in Blue Lake Review, the High Window, The Penwood Review and elsewhere. His poems are anthologized at Poetry Pacific and Pure Slush. He lives in Magna, Utah with his wife and son. Michael has been awarded a Writer-in-Residence at the Wollf Cottage in Fairhope, Alabama in 2025. He is an editor for the Clayjar Review.


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