Poem: “River, Page”

scollon

To Y. Thao

Look how you’ve carried these small bodies
across the ocean, looking for the next one
to hear the story. Look how gently you laid

these children down at the fire where stories are told.
I hear it again: how the choppers lifted
out of Saigon, cut away the desperate arms

and fled, how the Hmong fled in small groups
of families or fighters, trekking across
verdant Laos, leaving behind their ambushed

precious dead as they raced to the Mekong River
and, beyond, to the Thai camps; how one family
came to the river and lashed each adult,

each child, to a bamboo pole fit under
the arms to keep them afloat, tied
everyone together, a string of soft pearls

crossing the animal river; how the parents,
pulling the weight of that chain, began to choke
and falter, began to drown, felt the river

claim them; how the father drowned something
in himself, cut away the two youngest
and let the river take them, felt the sudden

terrible lightness of the line, swam hard
until they felt the shore under them. They made it
to the camps, where, safe and destroyed,

they could not move, as if their legs and feet
were filled with river water, muddied
and stinking. A story too heavy for parents

to carry alone, too heavy for travelers.
Look how it pours onto the page, soaking it,
running into the ink so that every story

is filled with this story. I’ve never seen
that river. I imagine it braiding itself
fast over its stones, brown with the earth

it cuts through. Look how far that river
has taken these children. I hear it again:
what it has cost to come to this fire

in this language, to let this current of words
take these children again into unknown ears.
I see again how we waded into war, that fast

red river, and cut away children.
Those tiny bodies! — the weight of ten rivers,
moving forever over our heads. Isn’t it right

that the story circle back to its source? Isn’t it we
who are drowning, wearing this necklace
of more and more stones — carrying

the watery weight of these dead, our dead,
from mother to father, to river to page.

Teresa Scollon is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. Her work has appeared in several journals, including The Dunes Review, Atlanta Review, Damselfly Press, Nimrod (forthcoming), Off Channel (forthcoming) and Spoon River Poetry Review (forthcoming). She is a frequent contributor and producer for community radio, and her chapbook Friday Nights the Whole Town Goes to the Basketball Game is a 2009 winner of the Michigan Writers chapbook competition.