War Criminals & Other Crimes of Forgetting

My Lai


Lt. William Calley,
a forgotten heel
in the ’60s
for hip-hop kids,
finally apologized
for what he had
to the victims
whom “he herded
into a local irrigation ditch
& killed with automatics…”
at My Lai.
It knelled the beginning
of the end
for a claim of Empire,
where search & destroy
led to the fall of Saigon
& the maddening airlift
at the American Embassy.
Of course,
the dead are dead,
& wouldn’t accept
Calley’s chastised word,
he who enforced unfailingly
the command to shoot
“them Vietcong”
because they don’t have soul.
Is it true remorse
before the Kiwanis Club
to soothe a conscience
that turns him
in his sleep?
Will the wound heal,
even his own?
O Ever, ever
he will clear
the lump in his throat…


O The salvaged in Bulacan,
in cities & hinterland —
almost distributedly
on the scale of My Lai…
Will their torturers
see the light
& admit to their foul acts
after discharge
from the barracks?
Wracked by old age
& diseases
will they regain
the path of innocence
when once upon a time
they were recruited saints?
Will the miracle
of Paul on the road
to Damascus
be another story told?
Will the waiting
be for naught?
If only the riddle
could be resolved
for that human beatitude…
Shall we,
who linger at the gates,
abandon all hopes?


is therapy —
a priestly job
to suit a newer mould.
But it won’t change
the order of things
but only within,
like an overwhelming calm
that comes
with the wind
blasting out
the turbulent waves
into gently stirring
laminar waters.
The horizon lifts —
the world in disarray.
If a hand
shoots out
of the crowd,
or silence greets
the act,
faltering words
may yet fall
on soft ground
& make possible
new loves.
O Let it be!
The negotiated plea
to put to sleep
the dogs
of grim memory.


It was
his young, impulsive years
when blood was quick
to boil over war game fancy.
In old age,
when cobwebs
have been swept
to the side,
he will take note
of the murderous frenzy
that sent him wildly
at the circle of Asian eyes,
as if he were
a tiger let loose
in the jungle of their minds.
If only
he could bring back time
& he was
once more a child.
But that is over now.
There is no possible return.
He must keep on walking,
without reprieve in sight.


Who must
be damned
for all his trouble
at the martial hearing?
His superior Medina
was acquitted
while he,
loyal to a fault,
must rot in jail
like he were truant
to the military code?
There must be loyalty,
there must be responsibility,
but the buck
stopped where he was,
flummoxed by
crisscrossing lines.
So he must
make amends:
his hands were quick
to pull the trigger…
But it did give him
erotic pleasure
as they tumbled down
without a whimper.
That set him free
from daily fear.


He won’t be forgotten.
His name will forever
stand out,
in bold face yet,
from the text of history.
He didn’t know
the plot of his story
at the very instance
of his fatal act,
for he was all guts & glory.
Now, like a drunk
nursing a hang-over…
But he always remembers
the order.
He was aware, however,
of what he was doing:
But he couldn’t stop firing,
as if he was trapped
like a rat
in a huge Vietnam lab.


When the generals,
with their imposing rank & medals
handed down the sentence
for dishonoring
the institution
he was deaf
to the gravity of the resolution:
he was momentarily
why he must stand alone
before the higher-ups
who led him into war
without their setting foot
on the fields of burning smoke.
They only viewed the carnage
down the paddies
from the safety of helicopters.
They didn’t do the dirty job:
he did.
O He never felt
so stupidly tragic.


What is in store
for him
who’s out of the service
& in civvies?
People won’t probably care
about the fulsome murder.
He did what he could
to strike at those
who threatened the democratic
They know he’s a foot soldier
sent overseas to guard
against red interlopers.
How can you
make an omelet
without eggs breaking?



is a rare virtue
in postmodern times
where certainty
is most unstable,
turbulence the rule.
If nothing lasts,
everything is a missed call.
As the dictum of philosophy
& cosmos
know by heart.
he had only one master
to stand by
the secrets of the state
& governance
must go with him
to his grave
for he was,
in his own right,
an impeccable guy.
But his god
was a revered dictator
people talked openly
as a fallen idol
who tried to outwit time
& collective morals.
Will subaltern faith
allow him the heroism
for a holified vice?


In Manila
they just couldn’t
hack it,
this infernal silence
that attends
to this day
the riddle of the sphinx
at the tarmac.
But since his young days
he had pledged
to keep to himself
all that he knew
or heard
at close quarter
lest outsiders
feast on the memory
of him
who made him privy
to his secret will.
So be it.
Nada, nada, nada
could only be pried out
of his lips.
He had turned himself
into his own master.



These days
waking up
after a troubled sleep
where dreams
entangle in knots…
He can’t make out
the logical premise
that attend
the sinthome feast…
Is there a sign
to be unravelled
in the knowing?
Is there a pin
to the unconscious
that filters
to warn him
what to steer clear of,
what to secure?
It is as if
every nanosecond
things turn to stone
& old air
what must portend
in the future?
He enters door today,
leaves one tomorrow
which is all
what was before.
He is held back
by ghosts,
until he freezes over,
unable to move.


He remembers
strange women
who have left him
like a useless baggage,
as if time itself
has been squandered
& repeated.
They were passengers
at a somewhere station
who touched his hand,
then hurriedly
boarded the bus
that passed him by,
casting a neither glance.
He tarried
at his terminal seat,
staring desultorily
at his dusty feet.
This is the master code.
But philo majors counter
it’s no longer
the fashion & the mode.



Is there ever
closure to remembering?
is a door swinging
in the wind
& lightning flashes
to quickly illuminate
the grim terrain.
Your face
limned in the dark
shows itself
in a nanosecond
& I am whipped
into sadness
of all forgetting.
In a flash, too,
you melt
into air
& I grip in my hands
the ghost of everything.


Is this all there is
to faith & passion?
Sages know
truth has been damned
Can you pin down
a bird in flight?
But it will die
in your acid hand
if it falls
from the air.
So riverslow,
so lightmercurial!
You cannot will her
into presence
for absence
is ever permanent.


To endure
is all?
Rilke cautions
who lose heart.
O if only
he came from Sparta,
who wrestled with the wind at
the cold mountain pass.
But he descended
from Troy
who never looked
the gift horse
in the mouth.
O For guile & art
to survive
the slaughter
at the altar!

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