xxx: Vietnam War poem by Founding Poet Paul Hellweg, Site founder.   Founding Poet:     PAUL HELLWEG   Copyright © 2014
  Điện Biên Phủ Cemetery

"All that is transitory is but a metaphor." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

                        The dead understand blood should not be
                        the world’s favorite metaphor.
                        September 2012, Year of the Water Dragon,
                        two mates and I visit old battlefields
                        siege of Ðien Biên Phu, 1954.
                        Waterloo deja vu, repercussions relentless,
                        French withdrawal from Indochina,
                        American War in Vietnam. I'm here
                        on a lifelong quest to understand why
                        human beings go to war and why I volunteered
                        to come to this haunted land,
                        Year of the Monkey, 1968.

                        Valley-floor rice paddies ready for harvest
                        verdant hillsides planted with maize
                        idyllic visions of Shangri-la
                        not yet discovered by KFC or Pizza Hut.
                        I am sobered. I wouldn't have been exposed to
                        all this poignant splendor were it not
                        for the thousands who perished here.
                        Sara Teasdale once wrote that beauty more than bitterness
                        causes the heart to break. For years I thought
                        she was wrong, now I understand.
                        Pain makes the heart vulnerable,
                        beauty does the rest.

                        In the center of town, the cemetery.
                        Evergreen shrubs trimmed topiary perfect
                        immaculately-manicured lawns
                        Viet Minh dead by the hundreds
                        mostly tombs of the unknown
                        each with blue ceramic vase
                        joss sticks smoky fragrant
                        only four graves bear names.
                        All the other headstones just blank granite
                        gold stars within red circles, nothing else.
                        Some bear rudely-chiseled names on the reverse
                        inscribed by relatives seeking resolution
                        hiring clairvoyants to find loved one's
                        earthly residuum, pain enduring long
                        after last contorted body falls to muddy ground.
                        The dead remember. I do too.

      ( First published in  Gargoyle )

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