birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Cambodia

1974

I came to Cambodia to save children’s lives,
when there was no war
that was a raging war

I saw devastation—
bombshell ruins
derelict schools
legless 10 year old soldiers
machine guns everywhere
and
rockets smashing something, someone
—terror in each night
homes made of cereal boxes
or of flour sacks on the grass
way too little rice
stagnant sick water
rotting garbage on the streets
excrement in the gutters
and
children dying by the score
from starvation and disease
kwashicor
mirasma
tuberculosis
typhoid
typhus
malaria
dengue
hepatitis
and war
—an unholy mantra, without end

I saw open faces full of love
and pain
way, way too much pain
and joy—the most surprising thing
dances and songs and laughter
the desire to learn, and the will
the birth of new babies
—a most holy hope
where none should be.

I saw it all coming apart, being blown apart,
and no one would stop it.
NO ONE!


US soldiers and arms hidden in jungles green
to keep LonNol oil friendly
while
Khmer Rouge with soviet missles
made us dance,
not a happy dance,
across the city streets
—shells from the west at the airport, then
shells on east at the king’s palace.
Oh, and Angkor Wat is coming down
(they said)
—stone by stone, to be no more—
religion and hope all gone
So they could walk on in—
the only game in town.

And when it got too bad,
my government just sent me home
—forgetting,
never knowing,
that Cambodia was my home
that these loving, ravaged people
were kith and kin
just sent me home,
to keep me “safe”
—the way good fathers do.

For thirty years my soul has cried,
silent and invisible,
especially to me,
for that gentle land—
ravaged by hate, greed and despair—
I could not, but should have,
saved.

2006

I come to Cambodia to see, to witness,
when the war is past
there is desire for life, and the will.

I see restoration—
broken buildings being used
to teach
to heal
schoolyards full of children
not one gun and
quiet, blessed quiet,
nights.
wood huts on stilts above summer’s rain
and
rice growing everywhere

I see remnant destruction,
hard to heal—
water that still will sicken
health as tenuous as the next meal
children scavenging garbage dumps,
selling souvenirs
“you buy, one dolla, lady,
where you from, USA,
I know your capital, washingtondc,
you buy today”
Mockingbirds,
mocking us, our greed,
not knowing their mocking,
only their need
—an unholy mantra; will it end?

I see open faces full of love
and haunting pain
way too much pain
and joy, and so much need
and smiles all the same
the desire to learn, and so much will
young people everywhere

I see it pulling together, I think
can we help—I hope.
We owe it to the children
—we owe it! BIG TIME!
In the killing fields the pits
are being taken over by grass
—life force overcoming death.

The skulls remain
The faces remain.
The guilt remains.

At Angkor Wat I felt
the vibration of the universe
in the Cicada song
and wept for Cambodia
—for its devastation and restoration
—for my own.

I walked alone across the stones,
worried for how my steps would wear

At the western gate—the west, you see
—I knelt before the Buddha and his nuns
and wept again. At last I wept.

With a worn frond of palm she blessed me
with sick, but healing, water
—a baptism
—an absolution
A union of
my Christ’s and her Buddha’s hearts.

Then, I went out
And talked with the children.

I Should Have Been a Boy!

Bush Over A Shrub