Under the Pergola

Under the Pergola

An Adirondack chair, painted in a primary color,
in one corner, under the pergola, the blooming vine
appealing above – people an abundance
of themselves, prodigal in sunglasses, in the shade.

Will I speak to him, and if so, do I call him
“Mr. Secretary”? He groans into his chair,
opens the Times, reads, then glances at me,
and I stare over the edge of my Asian novel.

Many years after the war he speed-walked
through the streets of Hanoi in his jogging suit,
then around the Lake of the Restored Sword.
Nine years ago, but now he struggles with his cane.

Between what I can see, wedged in this chair,
and the explanations of what I’m seeing,
there is a chasm. As between the ink on his fingers
and the pronouncements quoted on the page.

Anything to fill that desolate space.
This is why we follow a man who describes
what seems to be occurring in the plosive world,
who paints the face of evil on a three-minute egg.

The old man’s wife sits in the third chair,
the nurse dozes in the fourth corner. “Bobby,
come sit here, in the shade,” and so he lifts
himself up painfully, shuffles across, and sags

with a wailing sound. Nine years ago,
before meeting with his former enemies,
he walked around the Lake of the Restored Sword –
where the fisherman Le Loi long ago found

a magical sword in his net, swung it three times
above his head, and led his people to throw
the Chinese out of Vietnam. When he returned
to thank the spirit of the lake, a giant tortoise

made off with the sword. The Emperor Le Loi
stared into the depths of the lake, two passive eyes
returned his gaze, during the liquid hour of peace
and the weeks of warm memories of war.

[an earlier version was published in the spring 2007 issue of Ploughshares, selected by Edward Hirsch]