Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MY LAI, by KAREN SWENSON



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MY LAI, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: An embassy's tall gate off a dirt road
Last Line: Of their lives by what death holds apart.
Subject(s): Death; Massacres; Vietnam; Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975; War; Dead, The


An embassy's tall gate off a dirt road
is the first anomaly, the second, drinking
tea in a cracked cup, where my people
committed massacre. We walk
to the museum cordoned by eyes
of farmers who live in road dust
as did the dead. My eyes, not meeting
theirs, follow a man, middle-aged now,
once an eighteen-year-old grunt, and our
woman guide, once a survivor at age six.
We move past dingy exhibits,
a straw hat with a bullet hole,
a basin's chipped white enamel, which explain
the dead owned nothing but their lives
whose final moments are blown up on the walls.
The guide, who never meets our eyes, taps
her teacher's wand at each exhibit as
we listen to the glass doors rattled
by the crowd, the windows darkened by their faces.

In a haze of light rain our ex-grunt squats,
tears pages from his notebook,
folding airplanes for children.
The survivor watches
from the steps of her childhood's museum.
I leave, but these two,
twelve time zones out of twenty-four apart,
are bound in working and in dreaming,
in walking and in eating,
in lovemaking and in arguing for the duration
of their lives by what death holds apart.





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