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Sample Poems by Toni Ortner


Voices from Vietnam

How can I speak when there is tape across my mouth? I was shot in the head and thrown into a ditch.

How can I speak? I was the young girl the soldiers in Vietnam raped, made stand naked at the edge of a cliff, shot in the head. I want you to know I was l2 years old.

I am an old woman run over by a truck filled with GI's who had nothing better to do were drunk as loons in the August heat.

I am the woman still striding across a mined field with bare feet and my infant strapped on my back. One straw hat is all they let me carry. I can't go back.

Everyone I counted on has been killed. The air is poisoned, the water poisoned too. All I can do is keep on marching. For God's sake don't ask me to make any speeches.


From a nightmare titled "In the dusty air the woman with weeping hair"

A ring of fire on the mountains is her deadly necklace, each charm a charred bone or fetish. Men beat the flames with blankets futile as children choke in dense smoke as trees snap like slender reeds. Monstrous thighs open and close like an insatiable vise. Her lips bleed into sunset reddening the air. Each strand of hair clutches the heart like an insidious snake. A silhouette against the sky crumpled stars in her staring eyes, she swallows the village whole.

It is dark and still. I lean upon the window sill. She waits in the garden beneath white as a marble statue this vixen this viper that smiles like a Madonna under the cold cadaverous moon branches ringed round with stars. It is not far. She will take my hand. She knows I understand. I am coming down. It is a matter of minutes before her mouth engulfs me and I drown.


Bell Hollow Road

The mended fence is gone wood turned to rot.

No one remembers the house that stood on this spot. Stones from the wall lie seized by the elements.

The inhabitants' blue ash sifts finely in thin April air.


Swallows at dusk wing towards the darkening line of trees.

Once upon a time three Buddha in saffron robes set themselves on fire on the streets of Saigon to reach the other side. There were witnesses. You were one. You remember the smell of burning flesh the gasoline the flashbulbs.

Everything you were terrified of as a child has arrived. You smile. Fix a vodka gimlet.