I swam the current of Forché’s images, like lights
flaring and fanning out on water: a dragon boat
gliding Perfume River, the dead of Hue in a cloud
of silence drifting, these waves sliced by the boat’s prow.
I put her poem aside and waded its quiet inlets,
isolated in its pressures, until my phone buzzed,
calling me to the world and what it had been doing.
Thích Nhất Hạnh had died. His buoyant peaceful voice
exiled in a time of war, joined the ripe plum silences,
and I wanted to conjure a grand gesture of lanterns
set adrift in the wake of imagination, let incense coil
inside a singing bowl. But instead, I wrote my friend,
who wrote back of his time in Vietnam, mornings
he began in Hue loading supplies onto convoys
headed north into the DMZ in the fall of 1967.
But, no, he said, writing again to correct my own poem,
he didn’t load them; he was on security detail.
Supplies were loaded in Phu Bai. He traveled north
with the convoy from Hue, children walking to school
in black and white uniforms, huts lining the road,
people squatting there to pick lice from their hair.
And I saw my friend a little more clearly, the way
Thích Nhất Hạnh said, for things to reveal themselves to us,
we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.
Forché’s poem ended with people passing a silence
between them, laying chrysanthemums on graves. My friend
brought his own quiet Vietnam back to Brooklyn with him,
that part of him that can’t join the world he knew before war,
but like a current it sweeps him from the city every July
because the fireworks explode too close to his war wounds.
They’re like small river stones, waterlogged sticks, a boat
that bend the course of the water ever so slightly,
catching sunlight in its waves, casting them back,
flashing brighter. To become water, Thích Nhất Hạnh said,
the wave does not need to die. She is already water.