At the War Remnants Museum, Formerly the Museum of American War Crimes: Agent Orange Exhibit

After the war vanished from the streets
it smoldered on in gibberish

of cells, in womb-spun flesh howled
into the trauma of living with what is

missing. A mother lifts an infant to the lens,
silently shows me what is missing

from its body, as if that’s all there is
to say. And it is. In every frame,

a being formed in a new way.
Such variety, it’s almost miraculous.

How stubborn, yet fragile
life is, a flame our hipbones cup

like palms. I’ve told myself there is no stoop
on which I would have abandoned you,

my twelve-week candle, no manger
flanked by sentinels of moonlight.

Now I wonder what your early exit
might have spared us. Should I thank

the evolutionary grace that made
my choice for me? Saigon keeps growing

away from the dead, from the past
that shimmers in the dust of the metropolis

cranes are tearing out of air.
But memory knits a kind of phosphorescence

in the genes. Yesterday, in a park
where tiny birds sing in cages

shaped like bells, a boy with a beautiful smile
and no lower half, flourished

an improvised genuflection
as I passed, his whole

body balanced on a single calloused palm.
And Saigon rises, hell-bent and ticking,

bulldozers perpetually digging
toward the ghost-itch

of a war that goes on
where we can’t end it.


Erin Rodoni is the author of Body, in Good Light, which won the 2015 Sixteen Rivers Press Manuscript Competition. She is also the recipient of a 2013 Intro Journals Award from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2014, Colorado Review, Cimarron Review, and Ninth Letter, among others.


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