Poem of the Month
The Jungle of Screaming Souls

By Niki Lambros

Published on February 4, 2020

 

                                   After Bao Ninh                                  

On the Jungle of Screaming Souls,
helicopters dropped napalm bombs.
The battalion of men beneath
ran in every direction, on fire.
Scattershot blasts, and one by one
machine guns cut them down
until there were only ten.

This happened in 1969
in a diamond-shaped grass clearing,
in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
The bodies were piled high there,
no jungle ever grew again. 

The crows and eagles came,
then the Americans left, rainy season began.
Incinerated animal and human
corpses floated side by side,
bloated, drifted into a stinking marsh.
In time the flood waters receded,
all was dried into thick mud
and rotting blood. From the womb
of the diamond-shaped clearing
the souls of ghosts and devils were born.
There birds cry like humans, they don’t
fly. Only there are bamboo shoots
the colour of infected wounds.
Fireflies the size of helmets
shine on the trees and plants
that moan after dark. In ’74,
when the recovery team came
to collect the remains, they built
an altar and prayed, secretly.

Incense burns to this day,
but the souls continue screaming.
After that defeat, they refused to depart
to the Other World. Then it was called
the Jungle of Screaming Souls:
the unlucky Battalion 27, lined up
on the diamond-shaped grass.

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