Three Poems

Gail Hosking

Photo Credit: Tom/tjgiordano

Buddha Montage

In the photograph you stare back
from your years in a jungle,
all that time pushed into
black and white on a retrospective
canvas so clear I can finally feel
the heat of your far away obligation.

I study the other men in the picture,
the accumulation of sweat and grins,
imagine the heaviness of those guns,
the routine of quick decisions.
There’s never a moon, never
any color in this study
of continuity, this tapestry of uniforms,
just your face on the edge of memory, alive
in that way the dead walk among us.

I write this in a room with Buddhas
on the wall, prayers stacked by the desk.
And I recall the times you visited
monks in orange robes and spoke
their language, studied their creeds,
then sent me carved ivory
to wear around my neck.
For your protection.

I think of east meeting west,
the needs of a country beating
out the needs of a teenage girl,
something still trapped inside
the one you forgot to leave
a contingency plan, the one
writing what will never reach you.


After the War

Panzer and Maximus, two dogs
on the job of repatriating remains,
still can’t find all the missing.

And there is a reason the old CBS
correspondent cries when sons and daughters
return to find what must be accounted for,
or why the one-armed clerk in Hanoi
will not accept American money.

Ho Chi Minh, pastry chef turned
revolutionist, now statue in the park,
knew that the tiger would eventually beat
the elephant, but the French believed
otherwise up to Dien Bien Phu, up to the
moment they took out their last batch of
rubber from the colony. And we in turn
believed we’d win in spite of Father John’s leg
buried at Hamburger Hill or Agent Orange
left on top of Black Virgin Mountain.

The landscape returns to orchids and color,
tourists in the Map Room where telephones
once connected to the White House,
and five red dragons circle with double-luck
on the palace wall. The mythical unicorn
speaking of intelligence, the phoenix of beauty,
the tortoise of longevity, while the ghosts
of Ming and Diem surrender like a dust speck
on a thirteenth-century painting of Mongolian invaders.
Helicopter pads pointed out after lunch
at the Indochina Restaurant where Norma from Idaho
tells her dream about being lifted through
a window with a long line of children
behind her, silent uniformed men
inside working on airplanes turning to stare.
Just as she passes the rice, she leans over
to say: They know we’re here.


Anatomy of Time

It took months before he told the truth—
a foreign language swinging back
and forth between them—and she curled
right then in a ball like a lost puppy. It took
weeks before she beat his chest
and ran away breathless, nearly tripping
over her feet, her body finally resting
behind a church, her back up against a stone wall.
When he finally left, it took days to make
the three AM call when she unleashed obscenities
down still-connected wires, days and more days
to scream against his silence. It took hours
to empty drawers, to rip up photographs,
to stack shared books into boxes. Minutes
to burn letters, to erase phone messages, to change
sheets. Seconds to fall to her knees. Years—
long years—to make space between before
and after, to take apart their interlocked cells.



Gail Hosking is the author of Snake’s Daughter: The Roads in and out of War. Her poetry and essays have appeared in such places as The Florida Review, Nimrod, The South Dakota Review and Fourth Genre. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and teaches at Rochester Institute of Technology. Email: r.gail.hosking[at]