My Lai Prayers Jan 2020

Breakfast of rice porridge was cooking
on the wood stoves,
people chattering,
children laughing,
mothers singing and cooking, and fathers
ready to work in the rice fields.

Then American soldiers
descended on this village

in a few hours
methodically killed
five hundred four men, women, and children.
Women and girls were raped.

War came and went, one conqueror after another,
the French, Americans, Chinese, but
the rice farmers’ life went on, immune to
the turns and twists of empires

except on that day, March 16, 1968.

Few soldiers showed remorse,
“We were following orders.” said the soldiers.
Few held to account for the murders,
and eventually, all the soldiers were acquitted.

What compels
soldiers to turn
into soulless creatures
devoid of humanity?

Today, fifty-one years later

I slowly walk through My Lai
my eyes filled with tears.

I walk along the paths with the
footprints of the men, women, and children
fleeing in panic from the soldiers.

My steps are a prayer and meditation.
The sky is serenely blue.
Songs of the birds fill the morning air.
Are they the souls of the people killed?
The profusion of pink and purple flowers
and a hint of jasmine belies the tragedy.

There is a large brass Buddhist bell.
I toll this sonorous bell and light incense.
I am empty and alone with my thoughts,
and the memories of these people.

I have no poetic or holy words
to heal the insanity.

There is only one word
that roars back to me

Why?