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Poem: The Ambivalent Nature of Healing

Report from Sonoma, April 1995

At the bank a week after the shooting it's business as usual; you couldn't tell any but daily life has ever gone on here. That night I heard about it: felt only shutting down, a muffled distant metal chung!, and nothing, not free to be impressed by death nor life, nothing; but in the next days, found I couldn't walk near: a force of sadness larger than two men I didn't know bound me like a spell. In time, my own dead made their ways through to say at last, ''Nothing you need do for us. Keep going."

I went to the woods where I grew up one last time too many. Last fall this was. The woOds are gone, completely gone. Once twenty miles out, not changed in thirty years, suddenly cedars and huckleberries, beaver ponds, bogs and deer trails, the riches of my first world, gone to housing tracts, middle-class streets, poles, wires, lawns, people from somewhere else having no idea what was there; all gone. They were babies; now they need a place to live.

In the winter I went back to Binh Dinh province, to my old AO, to the place where the sounds come from that; charge my ears with trouble out of time. I went to say goodbye to ghosts of men I'll always love, but can no longer carry. I found no trace, no ghosts, no floating memories of the spirit we lived in then; found everything above and below that ground under vigorous use of the ones who live there now. The fugitive past I went to meet is buried and put to rest under twenty-five years of busy life. It's been that long.

The lesson keeps coming back,
the hardest one: the locus of loss
is my eyes, not the bystanders, not the land.
Not those lost.

Can't take nor bring any of it back,
can only be in present tense
must live, must continue living daily.
It's alright.

—Ted Sexauer

Reprinted from What Book!? (Parallax Press, 1998). Ted Sexauer is a member of the Veteran Writer's Workshop, West Coast Group, which meets quarterly at Sebastopol, California.

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Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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