War Story, River Around a Village
He takes pictures with the camera
his father sent with a note:
This is so you can send pictures home.
He likes landscapes,
aerials with smoke rising from squares
of brown and green, like cotton escaping
a quilt from home. On ground,
he tries to capture the humid air,
a hot-day ripple over pavement,
if there were pavement. In photos,
helicopters hang a four-bladed silence,
and tall grass leans toward the stolid jungle.
In another, a child shot by mistake.
The curve of her teeth makes her smile
through the hole in her cheek.
Each day he eats, sleeps restlessly,
one day volunteers to make a jump.
Pictures taken in a cramped plane—
his own boot, shadowed,
plods on a sunny field. With the others
he crouches, as in huddles
before and during many games,
preparing as in childhood—
glass sliver taken from flesh,
or a needle-stick, or something
as simple as a first haircut,
when you arrived on the other end of it,
thinking That wasn't so bad. He smiles.
He approaches the sunlit exit
in the plane's side and steps out
with easy motion,
as if stepping off a curb
or the wooden weight
of a diving board—
a concrete curb, a plank
quivering with absence.
Smiling, he turns, faces downward,
spiraling with purpose.
The air cools and warms
the way the water changes
when freewheeling children dive
a pushing weight in familiar lakes.
Above, chutes open and pull men up,
and farther up, more men jump.
They all wait beyond seeing
when his unopened pack
drops past them.
He falls past the other jumpers,
who then watch, too.
It's the common dream of flying
revealed only in sleep
or as sleep approaches,
and leaning into it he thinks
Yes, so easy, I remember now.
RIVER AROUND A VILLAGE
Grandfathers could not save the village,
women could not save the village with children,
beautiful dragonflies, hovering at their ankles.
The children felt it most, bellies full
with hunger. Soldiers who took pictures
of the young ones and let them wear their hats—
the colors of trees—surely they would not kill,
so we had the children lie down. They obeyed,
a precious river, guarding our homes, fighting
also in their fathers' absence. The tanks
rolled close, stopped. My youngest stood up
and ran to me. Even before birth, she had squirmed.
We named her Chim, a bird still enclosed
but ready for flight. Her sisters stayed.
The mothers wanted to surround themselves
with the sweet warm breath. It is that single moment
before the movement we grieve for, the waiting out
of the last instant something could be saved.
Suspended, our breath welled within our bodies.
One man stood quietly, looked as if he knew me
until men's words punctured the air, quick jabs.
We almost moved to scoop up children,
cup them in our hands like water
brought to the lips in delight. But then a rumble
inside the snouted machines, a lurch forward,
and the river cried, as if to replenish itself.
Thinking I could blind memory, I turned away.
My little bird pulled at my legs, trying to lift us
both in flight. She might have screamed,
we might all have been screaming then,
but the machines roared. Little bones
held up the beasts a moment, one moment.