A Sketch from the Campaign in the North Poem
Just before dawn the women are washing
skirts and blouses, slacks from Hong Kong,
scrubbing their cotton on pockmarked boulders,
cleaning their limbs with mud and lemons
along the turbid river.
At the edge of the jungle, in surplus tents,
the men are talking without weakness or strength
of the recent change in the government.
On the other bank the soldiers are waiting
for the sun to rise from the hills behind them,
not smoking, not talking, in place and unmoving
as the leaves above them waver.
The day unfolds as if kept in a folder
on a desk in the capital.
The sun rises and blinds the river,
the soldiers line up and fire from its cover
the air is gravid with sulfur
the river takes blood without changing color
a siren signals the end of the hour
and later in the capital
word is leaked to the foreign papers—
not even their souls climbed free to safety.
There are no handholds up that wall of light.
from Wild Kingdom