Champa ruins, My Son, Vietnam
From among the smaller shrines, tendriled
and gray with lichen, the tallest lifts
its vanished façade, somehow retaining
even in absence the opaque chill
of structure and shadow in the humid heat.
Over the rubble and fallen lintels
a mass of imagined masonry soars,
pulls up from the earth and its turbulent green,
abstract gesture in a concrete realm,
the still clear temple traced in the sky.
This I remembered when she asked.
Not the abandoned tanks in Saigon
parks, the rusted clusters of shell
casings taller than toddlers, not the
president's palace basement,
the maze of tunnels and map-lined cells,
squadrons of phones on gunmetal desks,
not even the stoneworker in Hoi An,
carver of smiling marble buddhas,
telling of his brother, slow and
mute since birth, the dee-oh-seen,
repeating dee-oh-seen until
I grasped dioxin, the poisoned paddies.
Instead I saw that sacred space
blasted from form by helicoptered
marines, a thousand years displaced:
pure absence, empty fullness again
and again envisioned, erased.
This I recalled when the girl with the peach
cheeked infant asked do you have children, sir?
—phantom bricks, a deleted lyric,
that god-shaped scar on the land's green skin.