AN AMERICAN PRISONER IN VIETNAM

Chapter 21

When the handcuffs lock your wrist tight
You’ll know that the truth has bled.
Freedom has been marred with injuring scratches
And poetry has been stabbed.

Then you’ll begin to write a new message
to torture,
to prison,
and to prison guards.

Have pity on torture
For it doesn’t have a heart.
Neither does it have breath, tears, or pain.

For it doesn’t have love.
It doesn’t know whether it is ignorant or crazy.
Having been in darkness for a thousand years,
Let’s forgive the prison guards.
They are just machines moving back and forth,
As unemotional as the cold prison walls.

Here’s a flower for torture,
So that it may know a man will survive,
although his flesh may be bruised and torn.
He will still stand tall above punishment.

Send some tender loving care to prison
So that it will crave for the immense open life outside.
Life will not lock its door against those
Who sing and dance in the street.

Here is a little piece of soul for the prison guards
So that their metal hearts may start beating.
So that they will experience sadness and weep
They will be glad and laugh.
They will be anxious, learning to become human beings.

And that’s the message written by a poet.
Deep down from his dungeon;
To be sent to prisons all over the world,
to the deepest chasm on earth,
And to the highest skies.

– “Did you write this poem?” Chi Mai asks.

– “No, I wrote it from memory.”

– “Who is the author?”

– “A Russian poet. I don’t know his name. The poem was written in one of the gulags in Siberia, where the poet had been imprisoned, and later died. It was smuggled out of the Soviet Union to Europe.”

– “Do you want to know my impression about this poem?”

– “It’s up to you.”

– “This is an excellent poem. But you have to tear it up, or you’ll get into trouble.”

She adds,

– “Trouble for me, too!”

He receives the poem from her and tears it into small pieces.

– “James, are you using this poem to express your feelings?”

– “Yes.”

– “You don’t hate the Vietnamese people, do you?”

– “When the war ended, hatred ended, too. I really hate the word “hatred.”

– “Do you hate my ideology?”

– “I admire all the doctrines and ideologies that aim at creating happiness for mankind and bringing people together. If I had to hate, I would hate all the ideologies that destroy the happiness of mankind, prevent people from getting to know one another and incite people to hate, kill, and torture one another.”

– “Do you believe in capitalism?”

– “I believe in God.”

– “You’re an American capitalist, aren’t you?”

– “I am an American. The fact that capitalism prospers in America doesn’t mean the American people are capitalists. Many people in America are poor. In my country, the people are free to be socialists, and even communists, if they like. Do you know that there is a communist party in America? As for me, I am an American who believes in honesty and truthfulness.”

– “Capitalism and communism have fought for years. You know that.”

– “Only these two ideologies are against each other. The American people don’t hate any particular people.”

– “But you have served the capitalists in America.”

– “I only serve my country.”

– “You joined the war on behalf of the capitalists.”

– “I’ve told you, honestly, many times, that I was only doing my duty towards my country.”

– “But you wanted to win the war, didn’t you?”

– “Of course, I did.”

– “Even if it means making people in other countries suffer?”

– “Ms. Chi Mai, you don’t know the sportsmanship of our people. I can say that no people in this world love sports more than we do. During a game, we do our best to win. But when the game is over, both sides embrace each other in the spirit of sportsmanship. Our people even take this spirit with us when we go to war.”

– “Not quite so. Your soldiers kill women and children too.”

– “You have told me about “phenomenon” and “essence.” There are bad people in any country. I don’t think anyone should consider those who committed such inhuman acts the symbols of the American people. As for me, I have never thought the people who have mistreated me as the symbols of the Vietnamese people.”

– “Are you a lawyer for America or the conscience of the American people?”

– “I only try to be a truthful American. What about you?”

– “To become a heroic Vietnamese.”

– “Are you a communist cadre?”

– “Of course.”

-“People have created doctrines and suffered because of these doctrines. I haven’t read Marx and Engels, but I don’t think they set up their doctrines to enslave the soul of human beings. Jesus Christ didn’t set up the organization of the Church. He was just preaching the good news. Jesus didn’t forbid white people from marrying black people. Neither did he say Christians couldn’t marry Buddhists. I have another question for you, I hope you won’t be offended.”

– “Go on.”

– “Are you a human being or a communist theorist?”

Chi Mai remains silent for a while, then instead of replying, she asks,

– “Was Jesus a human being or Christianity?”

He answers passionately,

– “Jesus was a human being, a real human being. Born a poor child amidst a world of hatred and killing, he called for love between human beings and the removal of social classes. According to him, all are brothers and sisters. He advised the wicked to mend their ways. All the myths that have surrounded him are wrong. He died like everyone in his time. He’s resurrected by his noble teachings regarding love and compassion, not by any mysterious miracle. The resurrection of Jesus is materialized in Catholicism and Protestantism.”

She smiles.

– “I’m listening to the preaching of a radical priest.”

He asks,

– “May I ask you another question?”

She laughs.

– “Of course, Father James Fisher.”

He asks,

– “How do you feel when seeing a human being tortured by another human being?”

Chi Mai’s eyes blink repeatedly. James Fisher says, – “I know you are moved. You are a human being, not an ideology. Just like me, a human being, and not an ideology. Just like everyone around us are human beings, not ideology. Both capitalism and communism are rubbish. People go on loving one another without either of them. I know you were not the one who tortured me. It was your ideology that made you do it. Human beings are eternal. Ideologies are just temporary.”

Chi Mai is impressed by what he says. The common sense deep inside her has begun to wake up. She says softly,

– “ Thank you, James. Let’s continue our talk tomorrow.”

She pushes a button. The guard opens the door and enters.

– “Have a good night’s sleep, James.”

He stands up and bows slightly to her.

– “I sincerely thank you.”

James follows the guard back to his room.

—> 22

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