Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BIRDS OF VIETNAM, by HAYDEN CARRUTH

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THE BIRDS OF VIETNAM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: O bright, o swift and bright
Last Line: Help it, I have so loved / this world
Subject(s): Asia; Birds; Vietnam; Far East; East Asia; Orient

O bright, O swift and bright,
you flashing among pandanus boughs
(is that right? pandanus?)
under the great banyan, in and out
the dusky delicate bamboo groves
(yes? banyan, bamboo?)
low, wide-winged, gliding
over the wetlands and drylands
(but I have not seen you,
I do not know your names,
I do not know
what I am talking about).

I have seen the road runner and the golden eagle,
the great white heron and the Kirtland's warbler,
our own endangered species,
and I have worried about them. I have worried
about all our own, seen and unseen,
whooping cranes, condors, white-tailed kites,
and the ivory-bills (certainly gone, all gone!)
the ones we have harried, murdered, driven away
as if we were the Appointed Avengers,
the Destroyers, the Wrathful Ones
out of our ancestors' offended hearts
at the cruel beginning of the world.
But for what? for whom? why?
Nobody knows.

And why, in my image of that cindered country,
should I waste my mourning? I will never have
enough. Think of the children there,
insane little crusted kids at the beckoning fire,
think of the older ones, burned, crazy with fear,
sensible beings who can know hell, think
of their minds exploding, their hearts flaming.

I do think. But today,
O mindless, O heartless, in and out
the dusky delicate groves,
your hell becomes mine, simply
and without thought, you maimed, you
poisoned in your nests, starved
in the withered forests.
O mindless, heartless,
you never invented hell.
We say flesh turns to dust, though more often
a man-corpse or woman-corpse is a bloody pulp,
and a bird-corpse too, yet your feathers
retain life's color
long afterward, even in the robes
of barbarous kings,
still golden the trogon feather,
still bright the egret plume, and the crest
of the bower bird will endure forever
almost. You will always remind us of what
the earth has been.

O bright, swift, gleaming
in dusky groves,
I mourn you.
O mindless, heartless, I can't
help it, I have so loved
this world.

Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA
98368-0271, www.cc.press.org

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