“Lessons in Madness”

While I was in the hospital, I had the joy of reading a phenomenal account of the Vietnam War and the role of memory: Nothing Ever Dies by Viet Thanh Nguyen. One of my best friends from college brought it to me, along with a copy of Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime, which is hilarious, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, reading his fantastic scaffolding for the first time, along with some novels, among them Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, which is so far off from my typical humor scene, I had to re-start it three times before I could jive.

I thought Nothing was a bit short for the treatment, but otherwise splendid, and it served as a reminder of a book I read on the diasporas following the Korean War in an undergraduate course at NYU.

There’s a quote toward the end of the book: “Will these bones serve only as a lesson against madness, if even that? Will they also speak against the deprivations that led to that madness, the myriad injustices of the past that survive to this day? Will the past be just forgotten, or will there be a just forgetting of the past?” (300). The below poem I wrote as inspired by the quote, one of multiple-dozen poems completed on medical leave.

The poem is about Vietnamese burial habits: you bury once, to strip to bones, and then bury again, in fuller graveyards, closer to those who are living.

they bury vietnam twice:

once, for flesh to strip from bones;

again, for bones to stand near those living.

these lessons in madness–

when the embodied bear skin dresses,

flesh soft and smooth,

tied together at the chests,

tipped off at the breasts,

one forgets that bone dolls

mimic acts from inside out,

that heart that beats,

that nerve that courses,

that bone mirage

which images actual

and not mere


nor madness.

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