Friday, April 30, 2010

One War Ended

The Vietnam War ended on this day thirty-five years ago, the date marked by the fall of Saigon. Below, the first stanza of “April 30, 1975,” by the American poet and English professor John Balaban, who served in Vietnam as a conscientious objector doing alternative duties:

The evening Nixon called his last troops off,
the church bells tolled across our states.
We leaned on farmhouse porch pilings, our eyes
wandering the lightning bug meadow thick with mist,
and counted tinny peals clanking out
through oaks around the church belltower.
You asked, “Is it peace, or only a bell ringing?”

Perhaps only a bell ringing, the signal for a temporary hiatus in war’s blind march through history. Below a lush poem called "Curfew" written by Brian Turner, which also speaks to that small space of quiet. Brian served seven years in the US Army, most recently in Iraq. He has two books of poems—Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise. Both are must-reads.

                                   The wrong is not in the religion;
                                   The wrong is in us.
                                              --Saier T.

At dusk, bats fly out by the hundreds.
Water snakes glide in the ponding basins
behind the rubbled palaces. The mosques
call their faithful in, welcoming
the moonlight as prayer.

Today, policemen sunbathed on traffic islands
and children helped their mothers
string clothes to the line, a slight breeze
filling them with heat.

There were no bombs, no panic in the streets.
Sgt. Gutierrez didn't comfort an injured man
who cupped pieces of his friend's brain
in his hands; instead, today,
white birds rose from the Tigris.

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