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Lay for the Day
16th March

1968: the soldiers of Charlie Company, entering a Vietnamese village which is supposed to be a stronghold of the Viet Cong, burn the place to the ground and kill everyone they find. One GI reckoned that among the 500 or so unarmed people who were killed in My Lai there was not a single male of military age.

The Estuary

The first one, I remember,
must have been what we saw
in the late evening
(full of insects, oppressive air
on the greasy harbour
and the glint of the sea
turning on the rocks)
when we stepped out for a while
and held hands in the sand:
a lump in the water.

We had kissed first perhaps a week before.

In the morning the river was full of them –
peasants, from the remnants of their clothes,
the men with loose pants folded tight
over their legs as they drifted,
bunched up at the groin, pushed on
by the fast, full river.
Some of the wounds were terrible,
trousers pulled down
and dragging the knees down
into the water,
blouses torn and dragged
in the current over the women’s faces.
And the flesh there,
where those wounds had run,
flapping gently like weed.
And sometimes only a leg or a hand.

Somebody said we should row out
and hook them in and bury them,
but then, if we did that, we might as well
string out the nets.

A baby caught in the bank and I
prodded it on again.

In the end we did that, kept them moving on,
out to sea, through two days,
waking up and rolling those caught in the piers
back in the current.

They must have been chucking them in,
back up in the hills where the rain had hung heavy
for weeks, in their hundreds.

And on the third day there were no more.
And on the fourth day, neither smiling nor kissing,
n ot saying anything, she came and woke me up
early, and said that the men were going out again
in boats. And the river wallowed round
an uprooted sapling in midstream,
and the wind wrapped her skirts,
rattling, round her thighs,
watching where the boats went out to sea,
where they had gone.

We went out into a hollow of the dunes
and made love for the first time
under the wind and the grey sky,
stared at the ragged grass along the ridge,
hardly spoke.

John Gibbens
from Pisces


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