Of Fish and War (Edit)

Of Fish and War

In the city of Nha Trang, Vietnam
at the National Oceanographic Institute
among tanks cramped with
circling neurotic fish
(Hit the glass. Stop. Turn around)

there is a multi-colored specimen
whose toxin,
according to the description,
renders its victims

“unconspicuous or even dead”.

Conspicuous behind glass
further north
in the Hanoi War museum

lie the dog tags of dead American soldiers

to a man
young, buzzcut and hopeful.

This poem was written a number of years ago, after a visit to Vietnam. The news out of Ukraine this week, for some reason, made me think of that visit and what happens to a whole generation on either side of a conflict when leaders decide to go to war.

It appeared in Open Link weekend over at earthweal.

Now also in Open Link over at dverse


Photo  taken outside The Hanoi War Museum

20 thoughts on “Of Fish and War (Edit)

  1. Rajani Radhakrishnan

    That is very well written… I too have been thinking of war museums and memorials I’ve been to- Hiroshima, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand… we’ve left a bloody trail and seem to have learnt no lessons.


  2. Sherry Marr

    Gah. Lost my comment. War is terrible, then and now. Pretty damn scary now. I like the connection you made to Viet Nam. And the fish trapped behind glass. Like ukrainian mothers and their children, in subway stations. No way out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brendan

    There is a monstrous spiritual anguish over a population bombed from afar, up in the air: No way to scream at its face, no way to throw rocks at B52s, no way to funnel the outrage properly. War memorials and museums do help to characterize that feeling – those dog tags of an almost faceless horde of buzzcut innocents, the burnt fuselage of one salvaged fallen angel of death. No way for Ukranians to face those firing missiles (although they recently said that any Russian soldier caught on a missile launcher or from a shelling battery would be killed on the spot.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve Simpson

    A conspicuous stark piece with conscious conscience, Jim. “When will they every learn?” Never. Truth, the first casualty of war, and leaders who got there by being inhuman, and the poor and disenfranchised who suffer. Apologies for repetition.


  5. hedgewitch

    This conflict(what a neutered word) has been reminding me of Viet Nam for awhile–your analogy here is spot on. Perhaps you remember the song “Universal Soldier,” from back then, which laid the responsibility for war on those who serve–I believe they are the dazed fish in the tank here, and the real responsibility lies much more with the toxic individual forces and tyrants who make use of them. Surely the “…young, buzzcut and hopeful..” could be led another way.


  6. Suzanne

    So very sad. The Vietnam War and the peace movement happened during my formative years. I have been a pacifist ever since. Your poem reminded me of the deep sense of futility and sadness we all felt when our brothers and friends were sent to fight in that terrible war.



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