I tell you, this is the last word for this war.
This little side war we were the center of.
There is no justice from poetry-
Any veteran can tell you that.
They want their land, their lives
Their livestock back.
Grenade fishing in the aftermath of Phou Pha Thi
Has lost its novelty
To the man with a bullet fragment rattling
In his body, slowly tearing him apart.
Write, they tell me. Write what?
We lost, we were forgotten, we are ghosts.
We are victims of fat tigers and foreign policy.
There is no Valhalla, only memories of Spectre gunships
There is no Elysium, only pleas for asylum.
This jungle was filthy.
There was shit. There was blood.
There were refugees
Who to this day cannot explain why they were the enemy
When the war came.
Their sons fought. Their brothers died.
Their uncles, maimed, were hauled screaming into the shadows of the
Plain of Jars.
Write, they tell me, so people won’t forget.
So someone will know.
Lift the broken bodies with my words, bring them out
And say ‘we did not die in vain’.
For every bullet hole, let there be a word to stand as a monument.
For every lost limb let there be a sonnet to stitch the truth back together.
For every eye gone blind, let there be something to take its place.
How can you not have words for the war of whispers?
How can you not shout, now that the whispering is done?
And I swear, each time I break this promise, that the next time
Will be the last word I write about this damn war.
By Bryan Thao Worra
"The Last War Poem" originally appeared in the 2002 anthology, "Bamboo Among the Oaks" from the Minnesota Historical Society Press and was most recently featured in my collection "DEMONSTRA." from Innsmouth Free Press in 2013.
The photo of the Plain of Jars from the Xieng Khouang province of Laos was taken during my first return to Laos in 30 years, in 2003, while searching for my long-lost family members.