The Dead I Know, Lines for the Fleeing Widow and Her Children
THE DEAD I KNOW
I squint at the dead
who are not mine—
these ants I have drowned with poison.
My presence does not frighten the live ones,
their antennae sifting through death
like knuckle hairs in the wind.
They scuttle in and out
of last night's plate,
passing the eyeless skull of a trout
and two rice grains
hard as pebbles.
These ants are salvagers,
mandibles clutched around
wet bundles of head, thorax, and abdomen—
and I can't help but confess
how alike we are. Though driven
by cannibal instincts, they have come
like civilized men and women,
at the end of battle,
to carry their dead—
and their half-dead away.
There is an image: Noon.
Laotian jungle. Two Hmong men
have crept out of hiding
to find food. One has been shot,
a clean puncture through the gut
and out the spine. He is dragged
by his comrade to the edge
of shore. Both his feet are digging
rocks from the river bed, brushing shells
and fish fins. Half-dead, the splash of water
feels oddly pleasant—half-alive,
he can hear the shouts behind them—
the tat-tat-tat of communist bullets—zipping
an ear off, tearing through a calf.
The dead I know
are less fortunate than ants—
I have known them to bask
along riverbanks, begging
to be carried away on the backs
of lonely fish, crabs, and worms,
the songs of water and sand
gurgling through their lips.
LINES FOR THE FLEEING WIDOW AND HER CHILDREN
Her legs open
like a flower, out of a war
story my mother made her own
children remember. I see the wound
that won't close. The green and pink
sashes pulled from her waist—pressed
between her legs to stop
the blood, to keep the womb from
falling. A line of communist men
fucked her with their penises and rifles—
finally, with a thick branch
from the forest bed, a cockeyed spear.
Tonight, the woman whispers of her children,
her sashes heavy and wet. I type:
one strangled...one stabbed...one shot...one clubbed.
The youngest swung against the trees.
Tonight, words flame like spirit money,
searing the wound. Burn for the dead.