A letter To Vietnam from veteran George Evans
I visited your country at the wrong time, but if I had not I still would not understand the nature of things, would still think my country is paradise, which in many ways it is, but which it is not. It is built on graves, on bones, on promises broken and nightmares kept, on graves that howl deep in the earth, on skulls crushed with religious objects, on human skin used as rugs, on graves upon graves of graves. And we are always busy conquering ourselves.
Whatever it is holds us in a spell of wonder when we are children, abandoned me when the war began. I don’t mean just me or just youth, I mean something about this country. But I don’t mean just this country, I mean the world. I’ve spent my time searching for what it is, like a suicide who refuses to die, an optimist who is empty, a buoy on the sea.
In the dry garden where we walked, where stone represents water as well as itself, the Chinese characters of which mean the center or heart of heaven, there is a mountain represented, Mount Sumeru, the highest peak of every world, every world a bodhisattva holds in its hands, every world in the universe, and every world we live in, but it also represents the center of infinity, and because infinity has only centers, we were standing everywhere at once, and exchanged what could not be stated except in language which could never be spoken.
But we must speak it. The question is, how many heads do we have and how many arms and how many worlds do we hold, and just how far will we go to end our war.
The order of the universe is that there may be none, not like glasses lined up, each dish upon its shelf. And what we think is wild is not.
I want to be reasonable, it is something that interests, even haunts me, but given certain knowledge, how to be is more hellish.
The room here is small, and at times the way wind kicks up over the fence lip reminds me of animal howling and that in turn of an even smaller room, a box of sorts within a building stilted off the ground beneath a tin washboard roof hammered by rain in your country.
Our rooms there were like boxes really, perimeters not unlike the skin, and came to mean everything for each one, for each had the need to live in containment where there was none, to confine ourselves, as one might a crazed dog until it calms.
Perhaps it is not the past I should concern myself with, but not to speak of it and face what is still happening is not possible.
The double bonds of living for something and dying for something are ribbons that trail from us, drag behind or flap from us, and if I could understand it now or ever this business would be done.