A North American, on Being Prompted To Write a Poem about a Vietnamese Cave


A North American, on Being Prompted To Write a Poem about a Vietnamese Cave

I can’t think about caves in Vietnam
without picturing soldiers
hiding–or boys who would be made
to be soldiers,
girls who would be made
to serve them–

Which shows, I suppose, how stuck in time
I am, mired in old sores as if they were a ditch
and me a rear wheel, wayward,
blades of switch grass buzzing
in the spin of my caught hub.

My ditch–and I want to make this
crystal clear (as some around that time
used to affect)–
has nothing to do with any dislike
of the Vietnamese–rather, it collects its ditch-pitch

from a consciousness of my own (our own)
wrong turns, reckless
wreckage, last minute

I picture tendrils
of tan fingers.  They touch for balance–
for who could grip?–the lime sluice
of a stalag-something (that serves as
both bar and shield). Their eyes, schooled
in a glittering verdigris of frond, sun,
paddy, ache in the echoing dank,
but there are just too many
damn greens outside–
khaki, camo, olive drab–

And now, sitting here on my side of the spin,
I wonder about their stepping into
the sun after all that–years–
those would-not-
be soldiers,
blinking below a leaf canopy, sleek hair
dull for that spent time,
yet still framing their faces wholly,
looking up.

Why do I not know more?
Why did we not learn more
about such things?


Yes, I know–I’m pushing it.  A poem of sorts for Hannah’s prompt on With Real Toads to write something inspired by the beautiful Hang Sun Doong Cave.  The cave was not formally discovered until 1991, some time after the Vietnam War. 

Also, I couldn’t find a cave picture that I felt sure was in the common domain, so the above is mine–it doesn’t have to do with caves!  But yes, with reflection.

And I am sorry for the endless self-promotion, but if you have any interest (and 99 cents) do check out my new book, Nice, which takes place during the Vietnamese War. 

Process note–Richard Nixon was known for often making things “crystal clear.”  



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12 Comments on “A North American, on Being Prompted To Write a Poem about a Vietnamese Cave”

  1. hedgewitch Says:

    This is the kind of sneaky poem one starts to read almost as prose, then it becomes a complete ambush and one starts getting impaled on words and phrases, stopped short full of sharp stabs of recognition, realization, and with this topic, remorse. Truly, whatever it may be to its people, Viet Nam is only one thing to me, a long ago war that shaped my generation (though we seemed also fully able to be shapeless at the same time.) A waste, a terrible lack of anything ever being ‘crystal clear’ again. This is very penetrating, k–delicately executed, and full of a true sense of living in a cave,fearing the very movement of light, a fear mirrored by those on either side of the entrance.

    • Katy Magee Says:

      What hedgewitch said. ^

      Because I cannot possibly say it better myself.
      Despite being younger than the Viet Nam War, I couldn’t help thinking of all the lives that lived there, near that cave, and all the lives that died there. Thank you for posting this.

  2. It’s the same for me your opening stanza…I’m so glad you joined in, thank you, K!

  3. Grace Says:

    I didn’t relate Vietnam with soldiers so your response is an authentic one K ~ I specially like whole part of tendrils of tan fingers ~ I am intrigued by your imagery, smiles ~

  4. I LOVE your response………..yes, Viet Nam will always be synonymous with those harsh times for those of us who remember – most especially, I imagine, the Vietnamese themselves, who lived through such hell. It is amazing North America didnt learn from that to stay out of internal political problems. Sigh.

  5. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    I cannot imagine a more perfect poem – title through to last line – to consider the scars you/we bear/ bare of a history you/we did not write but were forced to live. There is a price to pay, decades on.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks very much, Kerry, for your kind and thoughtful comment. It is crazy/unfortunate that we know so little of the greater world–at least I certainly don’t know much–and i’m not sure those in charge always know so much either! Thanks. k.

  6. claudia Says:

    yes – why did we not learn more about such things… reminds me that we all have that certain channeled view and it takes time and effort if we really want to see the whole picture… and that’s just so for about everything in life

  7. Helen Says:

    My then husband was there ~ one year. One year that ambushed every single dream, hope we had. Dark caves, Monkey Mountain, the Perfume River, bloody bodies. The innocents who suffered. I’ve seen enough photos and slides to last a lifetime. Which is not to say I don’t appreciate your reflective poetry. I do.

  8. grapeling Says:

    being of Viet descent (my father emigrated in the mid-50’s, it’s a longish story) while learning my then father-in-law flew 2 missions as a bomber pilot, and on my mom’s side her brother flying 3 missions… and stone age, etc., echoing – this pen serves as a poignant reminder of all that we don’t know ~

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