— Vuong Quoc Vu
“The bomb / also / is a flower.”
— William Carlos Williams, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”
My brother, come home from war,
sits now for hours in the garden.
I see now, he says, everything
as flowers, the tendency of all things
to bloom—the way the body bleeds,
the fire from guns, the sun unfurling
after the longest night. Everything blooms.
Brother, he says, I saw so many dead
I’ve realized that the body is, after all,
a flowery thing—soft tissue, clustered petals
of cells. Despite the marble column of its spine,
the great architecture of how it stands,
the arches and taut ropes of muscle,
it is easily torn apart, gunned down,
drowned, and plowed under,
how it withers and wilts with hunger.
When I saw the dead, I didn’t look
at faces and never, never into the eyes.
I avoided all implications of a soul, a name.
I looked at hands—those miracles of sinew
and veins—and imagined them to be leaves.
I have seen severed hands
as if they’d fallen from a tree,
hands crushed and burned crisp like autumn leaves.
I have seen wounds like purple trillium
forced through the skin.
I have seen blood that spilled and splattered
like asters, the plum colors of viscera.
Brother, I have come home from Hell.
How now shall I tell the story
of Man—the wars, wars, wars
until the end of time?
How now shall I tell—my mind
already a shattering lake of glass,
my heart bullet-holed—
to write in blood or with red rose petals?
The bomb also is a flower.