Green Man

[Image: An unrelated photo by BLDGBLOG].

The other day I mentioned a poem by John Balaban, taken from his book Locusts at the Edge of Summer, which I discovered again during Hurricane Irene; but there’s another poem in there with an incredible image that seems worth posting here.

In it, Balaban describes how villagers growing rice during the Vietnam War—where Balaban, a conscientious objector, served with the International Volunteer Corps—stumble upon an extraordinary feature in the landscape:

Beyond the last treeline on the horizon
beyond the coconut palms and eucalyptus
out in the moon-zone puckered by bombs
the dead earth where no one ventures,
the boys found it, foolish boys
riding buffaloes in craterlands
where at night bombs thump and ghosts howl.
A green patch on the raw earth.

This “green patch” has an usual shape, however. Balaban continues:

In that dead place the weeds had formed a man
where someone died and fertilized the earth, with flesh
and blood, with tears, with longing for loved ones.
No scrap remained; not even a buckle
survived the monsoons, just a green creature,
a viny man, supine, with posies for eyes,
butterflies for buttons, a lily for a tongue.

And the sight of this “green creature” proves too fertile, unforgettable, haunting all the villagers who’ve seen it:

Now when huddled asleep together
the farmers hear a rustly footfall
as the leaf-man rises and stumbles to them.

Out of the darkness, convinced by the life they give to the land around them that they might not yet be dead, the missing-in-action pull themselves from the tangle of the earth and rise and walk again.

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