Saturday, November 10, 2007

Keeper of the Heads

(In the movie, Coming Home, Jon Voight speaks of the other side of war the Vets have to carry...they have to live every day not only with what was done to them and their buddies, but with what they did, themselves. It's an awful burden to carry. My former brother-in-law was in the jungles. After, he came to visit us and laughed about the ears on belts, throwing Cong out of copters, but he wandered for three years, lost and stoned. I would never wish war on anyone on either side, but it goes on...and the orphaned children roam the streets , selling their bodies for food)

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Nights, when the rain falls like bullets
and lightning shocks the ground
with bomb-white flashes,
the heads in my basement talk to me.

My grandfather tells me I'm such a good girl.
My mother asks if I want rice.
My grandmother offers to brush my hair.
My father grunts in his sleep.

They speak for hours about the old days;
days before Ho Chi Minh wielded his fist.
Before the French. Before the Americans.
Days when our land rose in green stair-steps
to kiss the morning heat, and flowers
formed a rainbow along the jungle's edge.

My brother yanked their bleeding heads
off the posts surrounding our slaughtered village,
ears sheared clean for the Americans' belts.
He and I had been sent searching for roots.

I brought them here, well hidden,
even from my G.I. husband, the man
I seduced, married, and ultimately killed,
the man whose house I still inhabit.

Blood taken for blood given.

He never knew I killed many before him
during my days first as orphan, then bar girl.

My looks saved me.
I'm still beautiful, though silver threads through
my hair like tears.

Tears for our trampled rice paddies.
Tears for our streams bubbling with blood.
Tears for the slain water buffalo and barren trees
leaning into a sky burned orange by Napalm.

Tears, too, for lost innocence and
hands that will never again wash clean.



Pris Campbell
(c)2005

5 comments:

Ellen M Johns said...

I've posted a little poppy pic as a mark of ''remembrance''...

Lisa Allender said...

Have you ever read "The Deep Green Sea" by Robert Olen Butler? I'm a big fan of his, and, although this book was criticized by some as being "too predictable", I'd say it has a, um, "dark inevitability".
Take a look at this story of a man returning to Vietnam, and a young woman who gives "tours" of Vietnam, who meet...
I think the Review I did--years ago-- on this novel, is still available at: barnesandnoble.com

Your poem, Pris, was heartbreaking, without being "sentimental".
Thank you for your words.

Pris said...

Lisa
That sounds like an intriguing book. Where on Barnes and Noble would I find your review? And thanks for your comment about the poem. That time was really heartbreaking, wasn't it?

pepektheassassin said...

Terrific poem -- one of my favorites!

Lisa Allender said...

pris--
if u go to barnesandnoble.com,just click on "The Deep Green Sea" and look under "Customer/Reader Reviews" and it(my Review) ought to come up.
btw, Robert Olen Butler's "From Where I Dream" is a wondrous book on the process of writing Fiction.I spoke with him at Decatur(Atlanta, Ga. area)Book Fest, and told him his book was not a "How-To", but a "Why-To", and that I thought it was "Method-Writing", and I noted his theatre/acting background. He replied "That's very perceptive--the original title was going to be 'Method Writing'! "
His last book, "Severance" is a collection of short-short stories, all containing precisely 240 words. Why 240? That's the number of words a person can speak, in a heightened state of emotion, in about one and a half-minutes.One-and-a-half-minutes is the length of time a person's brain still functions, after being beheaded!
The collection is not remotely gory, or even depressing. It is--forgive me--"razor-quick" in its humor, and pathos.