Broken Buddha

The Lonely Planet said the roads would be “good.”
That just meant they were paved.
The crossing, too, much longer than expected:
back and forth across the drying rivers,
round quarried mountains,
through stricken forests – the splintered stumps, the severed brush,
the manic birds in plaintive swoops – and so many
futile stretches of tin and plastic and cardboard lives.

The Environmentalists commissioned me to tell a story about the
Irrawaddy dolphins and their declining numbers, but
what I find is hunger and River Guards who stop the fishing with rifles
pointing from their hammocks out over the deepest pools
where dolphins congregate for mollusks and tourists,
breaking the surface for their reluctant reunions with air,
and men, old now by 30,
carving trinkets instead of mending their nets.

Not much moves besides the Mekong
till the sudden tremors in the sky, the run for cover.

After the clouds depart towards Vietnam, it’s another hour
on the back of a motorcycle taxi,
passed the border where asphalt crumbles into dirt,
the huts becoming more, then less, embarrassed,
till they’re nothing but ragged platforms and scorched, leafed roofs beneath
antennae alert to the Voice of America.

By the time we meet I’m out of breath. The steps were many.
And he was hidden behind the new shrine they’re building,
on the monks’ side of the saddleback mountain, not the nuns’.
He’s been hammered: eye missing, shoulder splintered, jaw broken,
gash in his torso shows a metal bar where a rib should be,
paint peeling any pretense from what’s left of his face.

~ Vincent MacIsaac

Vincent MacIsaac is a Canadian resident of Phnom Penh. He works as a ghost writer and editor.

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