Darrell Petska

Reckonings: Choeung Ek

This poet's life at 26
assumed the luxuries of love
expansive hope
happiness unchecked--
And you?

That year at Choeung Ek
the killings began:
Vietnamese and Thais,
Chinese, Buddhists and Muslims,
thinkers, poets, all.

That orchard turned killing field
consumed the blood of thousands:
men, women, their sweet children all
clubbed, stabbed, poisoned,
tossed en masse into lowly pits.

Visit today and see
their many skulls, their bones
that surface with heavy rains,
their bits of clothing, their teeth,
their gaping graves

the grass does its best to cover,
the trees sighing overhead:
thus we blame Pol Pot
as we blamed Hitler
as we blamed Rwanda's Hutu.

Is this poet's life at 63
a wiser year?
Did the Dark Ages end?
Choeung Ek was yesterday.
Some were 26. And you?

Today we do our work,
love our families, write poetry,
seek the good in life.
But explain abiding love,
great poetry, such graves we dig

and toss each other in.
These killing fields pursue us
asking where we were
what we did and
have the guilty stepped forward.

I am a retired editor-adult education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. We have much to answer for over our history. By exploring questions of responsibility and culpability, sometimes we find answers that help us to make sense of our actions, or to act so that we can move on.

(author retains copyright)