You did not make this war,
but it came to you anyway
and it has cleaved you into a woman of fury.
It was the steel men
disgorged from the bellies of their steel beasts,
who knew nothing of
the abundant tenderness of your terraced paradise,
they were the ones
who spread these black scars across the bright jungle,
and tore the villagers from their earth,
scattered their bones in the ruined dykes.
They inflicted the black scar in your youthful heart.
Once, you were the strong peasant child,
girl of the rice husk,
arms browned by the ancient years of a limpid sun,
those smooth pillars of Vietnam,
which held up the beautiful cities of Hue and Hanoi,
the poet scholars, the plaintive music of the gulf,
the ancient palaces cupped by an indulgent flower.
Now, you have the steeled body of the warrior,
and your strong arms have learned to
wield their own iron righteousness.
The jungle is your skin and the enemy cannot see you,
nor does he reckon with the violence of
your threatened womb.
You will avenge the child, the child not yet born,
the hope of your Vietnam.
From the beginning mutinous,
the earliest tale we know
is that she cut her hair short
and slept among the rough men,
a stowaway on her father’s ships
plying their Irish trade on the bright tables of Spain.
In Spain, the juice of the wild pomegranate
entered the blood of Grace O’Malley
and released its scent of grandeur.
Her father’s vast fleet became hers at eighteen,
and these ships the arteries of her
raised waves and fears all along the Western coast,
and sunk barbs into foreign ambitions
over her savage and verdant realm.
When her husband died,
all the men swore fealty to her,
and the ferocious cliffs of Connacht
knelt on bended knees
and promised to die on her one Intractable wave.
It was just now that English power
fell like a dead horse on the free princes of Ireland,
and the Gaelic song was buried in the peat.
But for a while, still a little longer,
she thwarted them all,
kings and generals, men and horses,
sailed out, standing like an arbalest at her swift prow
to plunder the honeyed empire of hungers.
And she was a myth of the grey wave,
of the rebellion of the pale salt
and the ungovernable Irish heart.
The miracle of speech,
sitting amidst these young voices,
hearts beating on their tongues,
and the need to say anything,
the flower’s need to bloom,
the body’s need to resist the open sky.
In this foreign language they falter,
and I think of antelopes tottering
in muddy reeds,
lions in wait beyond us all.
I think of the first words we ever said,
when our world formed like a
those first, dangerous hatchling stutters,
the first time we stood on two rootless feet,
the first time we danced with the flow of others,
the first time we dug in
against the blue and baying tide.
Did we know then what they planned for us,
these declarations of independence,
the words of these young ones here,
painfully forming the contours of the heart,
these songs that lead us to the listening edge,
and demand we give form to our vaulting lives.
You are not me, but you were.
Now, your strides find the dark hour of confidence
and the secret that men fear.
Your body discovers a sexual music
and dances alone with itself
in the abandoned salt
and the wreckage of love.
And I have lost the bow to the cello
I once hid in the silent arch of your waist.
Giant and impossible,
you are beyond my small measure of need.
Your loosened hunger
burns the perimeters of my sadness,
because you are not me.
Free of me, you have become
a hurt aimed at my night.
You flirt with other men,
I burn in the pit of my poetry.