for Dan Ryan

After we spoke of the dead at Giờ Linh and Cồn Thiên, I thought of the bird that came to nest in
a dead tree; the deep rhythm, melody as she built it stick by stick, bringing mud and wet leaves
and bits of paper to mortar it into place; the exquisite anticipation of a hard wind and rain to keep
the young ones safe . . . this kindness, compassion—
then one night a fledgling fell from the crooked, dead tree, but its protector, its world would not
come down to save or heal, but somehow you were there just as you were there in the red mud of
our war—kneeling over the boys with your sutures and bandages, and you gently picked up the
bird. Then small arms fire, the pieces of the boys under your feet that you couldn’t save or heal,
and hard rain sliced through you and mortars tried to bury you on the hill of angels and in the
wind of the soul, but you placed the broken bird in the nest and tried to pick up all the pieces of
the boys, the dead, the broken, under the burnt and dead trees

in that moment, as we spoke, the bird above, above the boys in the red mud—me and you, bác sĩ*,
here and not here, sitting in that dead tree trying to build a nest for ourselves, waiting to fall
again into our bodies among the boys in the red mud, and through this—kindness, compassion,
the only matter.

*doctor, but used here as doc

Stefan Lovasik

Stefan served with U.S. Army Special Forces during the American war in Việt Nam. His poetry has appeared in the American Literary Review, Consequence, Folio, Hiram Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, and Pedestal among others. He has published three collections: Persona and Shadow (Flutter Press, 2015), Absolution (Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2018) and The Latitude of a Mercy (New York Quarterly Books, 2021).

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