The Peace Sculpture Wore                                                  

                                                               In the end,
                                                               the last birds 
                                                               will be mockingbirds.
                                                                                               R.B.

                                     

                                

          June 11, 1963.
          On a busy South Vietnamese
          street, a Buddhist monk
          sat like charcoal in flames
          smoke, palms together in
          protest of religious persecution,
          as bystanders watched.

          Did you know his myth—Kathleen?
          How his heart found whole
          was placed in a shrine?
          How The New York Times would
          run your story?  Soon enough
          find you more or less insane?

          Local reports cite
          anonymous police sources saying…
          evidence was found
          that Ms. Kathleen Chang
          experimented with cuts
          of meat and flammable
          liquids—for the past year.

          It was the picture of you
          in a bathing suit
          that first stopped me.

          Fifteen years of waving protest flags,
          of dancing stars & stripes bikini,
          of yelling social transformation
          manifesto on the grounds of Penn U.
          She became a fixture there some said,
          not attracting the crowds she once did.

          Your sad eyes seemed to watch me
          as I read—you danced as I read
          strutted and kicked—perhaps calling

          me sexist, perhaps not.

          Why October 22nd of ’96?
          Why Tuesday? Why choose
          11:20 a.m. to walk across campus,
          stand before sculptured peace
          sign between two trees, pour
          bucket of gasoline over your slim
          build, and set yourself aflame?

          …Ms. Kathleen Chang
          experimented with cuts of meat
          and flammable liquids…

          In a letter she gave out
          to local media and friends:

          This is the tactically
          correct move. I feel it with all
          the weight of my soul.

          Fifty witnesses watched,
          as a lone university policeman
          tried to smother the flames with his jacket,
          but the flames started up again.

          Sweet Kathleen, some said
          you tried to dance.

          By late afternoon
          as light rain fell,
          the peace sculpture wore
          more than a dozen bouquets,
          strands of beads,
          and a poem that began:
          Maybe she was crazy,
          the girl said,
          but I don’t think so.

          The last birds are
          here, Kathleen.
          The last birds
          are here. 

 

 

                                                              Andrés Castro