Touching Detonations
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Touching Detonations

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A 2003 e-book examining the issues of unexploded ordnance and tourism in Laos in the aftermath of the Laotian civil war between 1954-1975.

A 2003 e-book examining the issues of unexploded ordnance and tourism in Laos in the aftermath of the Laotian civil war between 1954-1975.

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    Touching Detonations Touching Detonations Document Transcript

    • T uchingDet nati ns An E-Chapbook By bryan Thao Worra The caves of Pak Ou, 2003 by the author Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved Sphinxhouse Press sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 2By Bryan Thao Worra Dedicated to my family, my friends and my teachers who supported me. Index: Burning Eden One Branch At A Time 3 Democracia 4 Golden Triangle Holy Mountain 5 The Caves of Pak Ou 6 A Postcard To Luang Prabang 7 Phonsavan 8 Our Dinner With Cluster Bombs 9 The Crater 10 Pastimes 11 A Crime In Xieng Khouang 12 Khop Jai For Nothing, Farangs 13 The Maidens of Sivilay 14 The Babylon Gallery 15 Chartreuse 16 The Shape 17 Afterwords 18 Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 3By Bryan Thao WorraBurning Eden One Branch At A TimeMy father, a skull before the wars were over,Never saw my mothers flight in terrorAs our humbled kingdom fell to flame and shellMy mother was stripped to ink among the bureaucrats,A number for their raw statistics of jungle errorsCollated into cold ledgers marked "Classified"My feet dangling in the Mississippi have forgottenWhat the mud in Vientiane feels like between your toesWhile my hands hold foreign leaves and I whisper"Maple""Oak""Weeping Willow"As if saying their names aloud will rebuild my home. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 4By Bryan Thao WorraDemocraciaFather was a tigerGround beneath the wheelsHis fat was burned to light a torchBut there’s no liberty hereOnly the ashes of the villageThat couldn’t evolveWhere ghost grandchildren play with ghost grandparentsAnd the parents are nowhere to be seen at all.Where have they gone? Where have they gone?A delay of a day for an idea, a delay of a lifetimefor the dead upon the ground.Look, what remains-This hut hasn’t the ambition of OzymandiasThese craters were once a rice fieldThis ox was no man’s enemyAnd what we have left to say could explode any minute. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 5By Bryan Thao WorraGolden Triangle, Holy MountainWill I ever see poppiesIn their natural habitat?How red they appear inAll of these pictures besideMountain women with theirDark turbansDour and thinUp to their waists in grass.Leftover bombs loiterAt their cautious feetWho have no time forStrangers pleading withThem to say cheeseGone with a flash of lightBefore the harvest is done Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 6By Bryan Thao WorraThe Caves of Pak OuLike the Island of Misfit Toys,Here resideThree thousand broken BuddhasHidden from the common viewAt the gorgeous mouth of the River Ou.It’s like visiting Les Invalides in Paris.You want to comfort them. Offer mercies.Speak of just causes and the daily news.Assure them they’re not yesterday’s refuse.That you were listening amid the incense,As bad a Buddhist as you are.They rise to greet you from their cliffs of limeLike stone LilliputiansOr solemn SmurfsWarning of the perilsOf attachment and fear.Do they talk in the darkWhen we’ve all gone back home?Do they mend their chipped robesWith dust and dew,Or massage each other’s weary solesBefore the next day comes?Do they wish they could blurt out warningsTo the tourists to watch their steps in the shadows?Do they remember how to giggle?Do they ever just once wishThey could switch places with us for a day?I heard of a man who snuck a BuddhaInto his fancy silk pocketLike a dizzy girl from Shangri-LaAnd never saw his home again.Climbing all over their house, I’m a childTo these ancient icons,Who gently pray I’ll never have to come back,Just like they’re supposed to. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 7By Bryan Thao WorraA Postcard To Luang PrabangGhost of kings and gilded gloryFlower of a sad and fading time,You’re steps and caves and holy,Hewn from a gentle naga spine.Put on your best jewels and perfumed airsIndulge in such luxuries fineAlas, my pining beauty, you can’t compareTo all of your old neighbors nearbyNo matter how hard you try.But youll always be mine.A lash of fire, a gorgeous eye among mountainsWho shoulder their true names in wounded silence Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 8By Bryan Thao WorraPhonsavanA stretch and sprawl of plain and hillWhere stones survive the coldest clouds,You’re jars and trails and scarsRebuilding your shattered faceOne hammered bullet at a time.The heart of Laos beats here,Desperate as a bush-meat marketOf endangered beastsHungry for change,Weaving adversity into opportunity.You’re a place whereThe long-haired goddess of HopeIs always itching to leave, but she’sA good daughter who always findsOne more chore she’s needed for,Who never quite makes it out the door. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 9By Bryan Thao WorraOur Dinner With Cluster BombsOur pilot packs a MakarovFlying into the outskirtsOf the old province capitolLong since delivered to kingdom come.It’s bleak, this once-thriving home of oursNow just a pile of broken jarsSerenading the paint chips and charred sparsOf the human spirit.Our hotel is ringed with bomb-tailsAnd inert Brownings from distant daysOf immolation.It’s all the rage in décor.The markets of carcass thrive becauseThere is no refrigeration to speak of:Power fails them here, except from 5 to 11When coincidentally, the best state-run TV is on.The hills pulse with rank ghosts no one wants to mention.These roads are emblems of narrow and nothing.When it is time to eat, we have no difficulties findingEmpty seats, cracking, astral in their depths.Our hostess strikes a match heavy with sulfur.In the glow, we see their candleholders here:Rusty yellow cans with brass fins and screw-on topsDelivered direct from American aviation, yet flawed.Failed agents of flame and whirlwind now somewhat tamed,Their menace barely noticeableAs she serves us her cream of mushroom soup.She swears it’s a local favorite these days.We don’t have the heart to compare it to Campbell’s to her face. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 10By Bryan Thao WorraThe CraterDrop down this siege of flat and angle,Cup your hands as if hollering forThe moonScooping out earth like ice creamFor the children of the ironmongersAnd too, their impatient houndsSlippery as moray eelsAfter your bowls of sweet, sweet victory,Howling for more bowelsYou, wiggling your iron tailCuriouslyLike a carnival pinwheel,Aren’t you ashamed you don’t even knowThe name of this place? Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 11By Bryan Thao WorraPastimesUnamerican football is the national sport of Laos.But they’re open to other games, too,From top wars on the smoking peaks near SaisombunTo volleyball sets in Tai Dam villas.The hopeful children knowTheir own version of roshamboAnd sepaktakraw,Their limbs wild arcs and fire,Tiny tornadoes upon the green.But it’s difficult to get a satisfying gameOf chess or dominoes out here anymore.Golf will never catch on in riddled Phonsavan,And cross-country track and field games areIll-advised. Especially with cleats.Crosswords can be resolved but are rarely seen,While cryptograms fuel grave suspicionsNo matter how benign their modern code.Hide and Seek seems particularly pointlessIn the blasted zones of disjoint and hole.A novice monk named Boun LomIs playing tic-tac-toe with meIn the shade of his struggling wat,Trying to get the upper hand,His humble zero in the center ever thwartedIn a game he doesn’t suspect he can’t win. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 12By Bryan Thao WorraA Crime In Xieng KhouangSomeone stole my boots fromA Phonsavan porchAround dinner timeIn the dark.I suspect it was my tour guide-The one who trained to be a diplomat,Whose future drained awayWith the American departure.When I first bought them,The box proclaimed they were“Hard To Kill”And by extension, I assume,So was I, though there were nowritten words to that effect.Forty dollars is a good priceBut it’s nearly a year’s payIn these parts.I should have knownNew American bootsIn an Asian sizeDon’t come by often nearThe Plain of Jars.He stole them from me,And is now slogging throughThe sucking muddy wasteCluttered with tiny rusting bombiesMy America dropped decades agoFor the good of Lao democracy.His English is exceptional,But he knows he is going to die hereWith his dreamsWhile I return home easilyTo get a replacement.I have to forgive him,Feeling like a thiefLooking for shiny new bootsJust past the American flags in the aisle. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 13By Bryan Thao WorraKhop Jai For Nothing, FarangsThe bomb popped in his faceWhile he was digging a fire pitFor his family squattingOn the old mercenary campIn Xieng Khouang provinceSo notorious for its UXO.“They live there for the American plumbing,”Our host said flatly,Watching volleyball games by the airstrip.This was wholly routine.The ruined grounds were frozen.Explosives, dormant blooms belowCan be mistaken for ice and rock easily.And he screamedThe whole time as we loadedHim into the back of our rickety planeBound for Vientiane thatLao Aviation picked up fromThe Russians when everyoneThought the Cold WarWas going somewhere.The California girl on holidayWas aghast and found itQuite unscenic.What a pall on her search for highs.In Wat Inpeng,A monk named SoukConfided discretely:“We really hate hippies.” Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 14By Bryan Thao WorraThe Maidens of SivilayHere then, your mouth a chamberOf earth, of brass, of lead and smoke.Your hair is made of silenced poets!Those lips of adamant tendernessUnrelenting Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 15By Bryan Thao WorraBabylon GalleryShe brought the gray spoonWe hung upon the gallery wallFrom the talaat stalls in downtown Phonsavan.She was supposed to be collecting dab neeg—folktalesAnd we were showing off art we were so certainWould change the way the world seesThat stumbled elephant we rode in on.Tacked on with a bit of gumWe lacked ceremony but not rationale: She was an indelicate work, this buang. A light cockatrice feather Crude malice her center Her bowl an echo of bomb craters Whispering mad as Gorgon.“They dine with spoons like this all over there,”We’re informed. “Hammered from war scraps the dogsFind indigestible. They sold me this oneCertain it’s American bullets at the core.” “It was time, they said, we took them back.”I pondered how many startled peopleThis carnivorous spoon passed through in her previous incarnations,Karma denying her a role in a finer flatware set for the saints.Oddly, for as many threads as she cut short She was too weak to be the butter knifeShe should have been. Swords into plowshares, Someone scribbled casually in a comment card, One of many remarks Disposable as plastic sporks. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 16By Bryan Thao WorraChartreuseThe color of the flamethrowerIs different from the flameOn a blazing bamboo hutOr a charring Iraqi conscriptWho’s been caught on cameraBut deemed unfit for televisionLest public opinion get peeled downLike a yellow onion on the cutting board.A housewife from Humboldt Avenue stops intoThe Shuang Cheng with her friend who lovesThe scarlet lobster smothered in gingerMarveling at the incredible array of colorsThat are available todayPraising the technicians of beautyWho paint new souls on for a pittanceIsn’t it a scream, she says.Isn’t it a scream.Outside, it has begun to snow.And the tiny poets of the world declare itThe fingerprints of God. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 17By Bryan Thao WorraThe ShapeWhat is the shape of the wise man?Is it the unblinking eye or the open hand?Is it the restless foot or the compassionate heart?Is it a book of prayers or a moment of silence?Is it a wild horse in the fields of Shangri LaOr a bolt of lightning over Angkor Wat?Is it that fragile water lily in a pond in Luang PrabangOr the croaking frog in a Mississippi mudslideGone now, without a trace.No one says it is an unsheathed sword.Few would argue for a cracked atomic mushroomBoiling an ocean of sharp-toothed sharks to prove an equation.Uncertain judgment should be notedRegarding tiny infants on University Avenue,Or humble ants packing their ditty bagsAt the first hint of a cloud of RAID coming their way.And it is almost certainly never found in a mirror. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com
    • T uching Det nati ns 18By Bryan Thao WorraAbout The AuthorOne of the most widely published Laotian American poets, Bryan Thao Worra was born in Vientiane,Laos and lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He has worked at national and regional levels on issues ofSoutheast Asian refugee resettlement and the arts. He is a vocal opponent of unexploded ordnance left inSoutheast Asia and the exploitive practices of tourists visiting his former homeland.Thao Worra’s work has appeared in numerous print and on-line journals, including Whistling Shade,Unarmed, Urban Pioneer, the Journal of the Asian American Renaissance and the Asian Pacific Journal,as well as the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, Paj Ntaub Voice Hmong literary journal and the BambooAmong the Oaks anthology. He was also a 2002 Minnesota Playwrights’ Center Many Voices Fellow andis a freelance literary arts reporter for Asian American Press.Questions and comments are encouraged. He can be reached by e-mail at Thaoworra@aol.comAbout The E-Chapbook, Touching DetonationsTouching Detonations was assembled in 2004 as a pilot project in a series of electronic chapbooksdesigned to increase the visibility and accessibility of Laotian American literature, particularly in areaswhere traditional availability of printed material may be limited or restricted.During the war in Laos during the 1960s and 70s, the United States dropped more tons of bombs on Laosthan on all of Europe during World War II. Nearly 3 out of 10 of those bombs failed to detonateimmediately, and today present a significant threat to the future stabilization and rebuilding of Laos.Each year, hundreds of civilians are killed by accident by UXO, unexploded ordnance, while funding toremove these explosives remains extremely limited. The poems in Touching Detonations were written atvarious points in the author’s life to highlight awareness of this problem and to encourage support forUXO removal.Reprinting or Distributing Touching Detonations, Or Using It In The ClassroomPermission is given to re-distribute Touching Detonations in whole or in part, provided it is for free.If a fee is to be charged for copies of Touching Detonations in either physical or electronic format,individuals interested in doing so must contact the author to negotiate reproduction rights. The authorretains all rights to the poems in Touching Detonations.Touching Detonations, or individual poems from this e-chapbook may be used in the classroom or incommunity education efforts for free, but proper attribution to the author is required. It is requested thatinstructors inform the author by e-mail or in writing if they are interested in incorporating TouchingDetonations into their curriculum. Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Sphinxhouse Press. sphinxhouse@aol.com