Thich Quang Duc: +10° 46′ 30.57″, +106° 41′ 12.71″

How old were you that year, Rhosonny? Nine?

He can never remember what year he was at what age
or what grade or for certain in which state he lived.
But he remembers 1963 better than almost any other year,
though he hasn’t always remembered that it was 1963
when he thought of this or that event.
Was he in Alabama that year? Or was it the next?
In any case, he was a news junkie already:
Cronkite, U.S. News and World Report,
newspapers wherever he found one,

[George Wallace in the door saying
“segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”
the next day Medger Evers murdered;
Gideon vs. Wainwright, Abington School District v. Schempp
but if you go to Cuba, you’re not American anymore;
Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham Jail and his Dream;
the Beatles and diet cola, Bob Dylan Freewheeling
through the Feminine Mystique and suffrage for women
is established in Iran, and even in Detroit
Malcolm X gives a speech while in Viet
Nam Buddhist monks are beaten and shot by troops under order
from the Roman Catholic U.S. puppet Diem, himself
taken out by the CIA (but not the new
Domestic Operations Division); Mecury 9
was the last of its type, and the first geostationary
satellite to verify a nuclear test ban treaty went up
though William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, and Sylvia Plath,
Theodore Roethke, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Louis MacNeice,
Ellmore James and Edith Hamilton,
Georges Braque, Jean Cocteau, and Edith Piaf,
Dinah Washington, Tristan Tzara, Paul Hindemuth,
Sonny Clark and Fritz Reiner,
László Lajtha, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley
and so many others, too many to mention,
left us without the push of an assassin
unlike John F. Kennedy and one of the six
who tried to take out de Gaulle,
Lee Harvey Oswald, and Lee Quang Tung
and so many others both known and unknown,
especially in Viet Nam and the deep south
like Eugene Connor and his dogs and hoses
and maybe Jakarta over Malaysia, but somehow
not the same though in Africa things were very bad
so The Organisation of African Unity and finally
though Dorothy Nyembe goes to jail
the U.N. at least calls for a voluntary
arms embargo of South Africa, not much,
but finally…]

Yet the one thing in this maelstrom to which
he was privy as a child, that also includes
his neighbors, sharecroppers living in shacks
who went to a different school
and weren’t allowed to play with him
though Bertha babysat often, whom the kids loved
but from whom they were separated by race
and the pictures of men hanging from bridges
and the sign on the new segment of Interstate
slowly manifesting on the other side of the barn,
“Gov. George Wallace is Building this Highway for You!”
with his picture smiling down on their poverty
so deep they didn’t know how to dial a phone,
and his family’s relative wealth
and crosses burning and the letters KKK
very present at every turn, at every sign
that said “colored” or “white” so that
even taking out the garbage at night,
knowing that he was white,
feared the KKK because they were evil
and the old man across the street
who’s parents had both been slaves
was the person who treated him with more
kindness than anyone else he ever met
in Alabama.

And yet, there was one thing,
one act, which he only witnessed in pictures,
that changed his feelings about power,
its relationship to terrorism and militarism,
forever. At most every other turn,
Dr. King the most notable exception,
power was defined as the ability to maim,
destroy, and kill. There were frequent parades,
a parade always celebrating military might
in some way. Heroes were defined as soldiers.
Bravery, heroism, and power were fused
together into a single dominant concept.
But then, one night on television,
a young man sat down on the street
while another poured gasoline over him.
Once the other was clear
lit a match and went up in flames.
And didn’t wince. Or writhe.
And didn’t change expression
while he liquefied before Rhosonny’s eyes.

This he recognized as power, though he’d
seen many rockets launch. This he saw
as bravery, though he saw that there was bravery
all around him. This man was his hero.

Of course, everybody else said the man was crazy
or stupid. Some went so far as to attempt
to establish this act as proof that pacificism
was merely a method of getting trampled on
by those more powerful than you.

But Rhossony was never able to accept
the power of weapons as being greater
or more meaningful, even in the hands
of an army, than the absolute power
displayed by this single monk
one day in a summer
in Saigon.