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Gregory Dunne – I

Learning Better

For the Dead of the Srebrenica (1995) 

      & Walter Payton, “Sweetness” (1954-1999)





Beneath the blossoming plum trees

we wait once more for doors to open

so we may go inside and grade

another year of school exams –

who is      and who is not      to pass

through the hallowed gates come fall?


Was it Walter last night

explaining his illness on television –

the several weeks he had to live?

Or was it video from Kosovo –

the bodies pulled from ditches

and left in rows for inspectors to see –


the boys and men of Srebrenica

unearthed along a mountain road –

snow begun to melt –

and grass gone thick with spring –

yellow violets too

turned inside the harrowed earth.


And then the sorrowing

when cameras pulled away to show

the many wives and children –

the mothers and grandmothers

under the drapery of shawls –

the weight of flowers in their arms.






Between our grading of exams last year

my friends and I stood here

and spoke of Zen and Thomas Merton –

how he thought of spiritual practice

as mostly learning better how to die.

A year is gone and I confess

if I were Walter Payton today,

or boy from Srebrenica then –

gun pressed against my chest –

I wouldn’t know better how to die.



We follow words into trees

streaming with petals.

We see the silence they leave –

our words and then the petals –

the bowls of blown blossom

that lift from off the branch – an emptiness

that fills the air with fragrance

and the promise of fruition

we want our questions to be

as snow above

begins to melt into a shimmering

of wet and trembling branches.






Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto  1999