I remember growing up in a divided house. A discontented citizen,
Confused, self-shuffling member of an old family grown new.
You and I separated by an invisible wall of an unbroken ideology
That existed long before the mind learned how to dictate the body.
I remember growing up in a divided house. My grandfather was
A resolute communist. My grandmother was indifferent to
The people’s National Liberation Front.
They rarely looked at each other’s eyes at the dinner table.
I remember the burning sun at dawn on New Year’s Day of 1968.
How the light was quickly dimmed by the immense flocks of
Helicopters like swarms of mosquitoes hungry for blood
After a long monsoon season in the low land.
I remember it was more awe-inspiring than the opening scene
Of Apocalypse Now with The End by the Doors in the
Background; more memorable than Operation Linebacker I and II;
More picturesque than Operation Rolling Thunder, and whatnot.
I remember it was even more exalted than Operation Chopper
Before I was born. They were indeed the mothers of
Operation Desert Storm and the bombing of Iraq in 1991.
Whatever operation that keeps me here and you there.
Vietnamization is just a catchy phrase while
Tricky Dick is relishing his Château Lafite Rothschild one afternoon.
I remember the screams of the wounded being drowned out
By the screams of the bereaved. They were everywhere on
The streets leading to the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady.
I remember on the temple’s wall how serene
Buddha was sitting in profile under the Bodhi tree in the shelter
Of the natural world.
I remember chanting with my grandmother,
“Let my skin and sinews and bones dry up,
Together with all flesh and blood of my body.
But I will not move from this spot until I have
Attained the supreme and final wisdom.”
I remember the lord of desire Mara presiding over the enormous
Elephant with many sharp tusks, sending his most
Beautiful daughters to seduce Siddhartha—
They failed for he remained in deep meditation.
I remember on another wall a vast army of monsters in
The forms of piercing arrows aiming at the Buddha’s front torso.
They, too, failed for he remained in deep meditation
As they turned into adoring bouquets of flowers
On the ground behind his back.
I remember Malcolm Browne’s black and white photograph
Of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation in the busy street of
Saigon long before it was called Ho Chi Minh City.
The flames burst forth to consume his body
But he had gone long before the spectacle.
I don’t remember when I was told there were two kinds of
Human beings: those who aspire to move forward
And those who insist on walking backwards.
Who else cares enough to look at the bright sun and the shining moon?
I was taught to remember to keep my precepts with the purest
Of hearts and be humble in the divided house.
North and South, left and right, here and there,
Now and then, I will always be forever caught in
The space in between with my finger touching
The earth. Nirvana is nowhere else than here. Amen!
Happy holidays with love and peace,
P.S. This issue is dedicated to our friend Olga Viso for her extraordinary contribution to the culture of the arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and beyond.
PHONG BUI is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.