blackbirdonline journalFall 2009  Vol. 8  No. 2
print version
audio version


Ruin is a promise
we make to each other:
I am born the day Saigon falls
and Lebanon takes to its own throat a club.
On that day
southern soldiers tear their uniforms
for the Saigon River to bear
to open water. The lucky are in boats,
their papers burnt into red locusts of no detail,
a swarm of no birth, no party, in flight, in fall
back toward the river of garments
drenched of each frantic gesture
that pointed to the cryptic sea.

For two days my mother lies flat with pain.
The locusts have traveled far into her radio,
their bodies cast with boat-shaped tips
while not even our fingers stay together
to scull us from cities where salt water, years later,
will pour up the neck of each great live oak.

By transistor she hears the fall of Saigon
and Lebanon’s night-coins of bulleted light.

The radio needs almost nothing to pick up the world, she says.

She’ll wake to it, she’ll sleep to it,
she’ll tell it what she wishes.

As a child I’ll watch her turn
the small dome of the dial
in which many lives crowd
to transmit the yellowing conditions
of each country’s eye.

Lebanon of limestone, Lebanon of sheep,
for two days my mother lies flat.
On the third day
the goats of the Lebanese hills
tilt their heads, stop their feed and hear
an ancient city begin to break itself in half—
and half again—
and once more—
until the halves are dust
in which the olives will not fatten.

Only echoes grow from the limestone
as screeching birds carry
what sounds are human
to the white cliff to cry them out.

A human cry lives many lives.
The gulls are that fierceness made flesh.

For thirty years the people of my life lived.
Then thousands around me drowned.

Saigon, Phuket, Beirut, your gulls
flew over America and lent her your name:

If it is as Socrates says,
that locusts were human
until they heard the song of the world
and, so captured, forgot
to eat and drink and died—

and if it’s true the gods
took pity on the dead
enough to resurrect them
into ashen singing things—

then, so too, our songs

will have to be plagues.  end

return to top