Vietnam ritual

Sitting in the primordial light of jungle each day
I placed a finger on my forehead,
then on my chest where the bullet would strike.
Then I would rest the palm of each hand on my
knees, soon to be blown away by a Russian mine,
and watch the smoke from my Marlborough
drift into the tangled vines and rain forest trees

as if the world were on fire and the world
was a small place. We’d get up then,
in single file, me breaking through the wall
being the first, being the scout.

At night starts struggled through the high canopy
pin points against the dark and I would
curse the nature of my flesh for it was intact,
not torn apart.  I slept in a scrape hole
on the jungle floor, my grave, knowing that
tomorrow I would perform that wretched ritual again,
where the bullet would strike, or my limbs
blasted against trees.

Now I am young but in old flesh.
I gave up smoking. What doesn’t kill you . . .
The marks on my forehead and chest are stigmata,
knees gone to titanium, and all the stars that were then
and are now have gone in to their own war,
galaxies to the north.

Barry ODonohue

Barry O'Donohue is a Brisbane-based poet who has been writing for 40 years.

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