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January 2014, vol 9, no 4

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Doug V. D'Elia

Stone, Paper, Ink

Countries look and smell different in wartime. There is a greater appreciation for beauty in the absence of fear. The majestic landscape of Vietnam, once the imperial hunting grounds, the playground of emperors who hunted and captured tigers as house pets, whose roaming forests were fertile medicine cabinets, lay exposed under the pox-marked bomb craters of foreign armies. The fragrant smell of a hundred mosses, abundant gardens of flowers in full spectrum, unimaginable flora and fauna; camouflaged in the stench of death, burnt flesh and napalm.

In muddy water
the lotus flower blossoms
under steel toed boots

Magnificent jungles, adorned with birds of paradise and exotic lyrical birds that lend counsel to fairies, and nature spirits residing in rocks and trees, a desolation row deforested by carpet-bombing firestorms. The crumbling stones of an ancient temple covered with fern, moss, and creaky vines. The spirits of ancient sages covered in fish ink write haikus on silk paper, monks chant long into the night, and spiritual masters sit in pagodas among rusty chimes surrounded by prayer flags, with crooked disciplined fingers moving along 108 moon and star beads, each one symbolizing a barrier to enlightenment. War is a great conduit where karmic debt races alongside the moral compass. Rubber-tree forests with trees a hundred years old, yielding a steady flow of white milky sap, converted to mine fields. Colorful junk boats slowly passing up and down the Mekong Delta, both transportation and markets, sometimes home, bags of dried rice blanketing concealed weapons. Everything looks and smells different in wartime. There is a greater appreciation for beauty in the absence of fear.

Majestic mountains
a thousand peaceful Buddhas,
tigers pace the cage