Gregory Dunne – I
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