Crossing the curved wooden bridge over a small river, I reached the Kutupalong Refugee camp. The temporary tarp and bamboo dwellings of the refugees stretched endlessly over the deforested undulating hills. The morning humidity settled, a cloak of haze, making breathing heavy and labored. Smoke from outdoor cooking curved and lingered in the air.
Swarms of children quickly surrounded me, holding my hands, skipping alongside me. My guide and I climbed up the dirt steps carved into the slopes. In the monsoon rain, these would all be washed away. It had already left its legacy; deep cavernous grooves furrowed the fragile slopes.
Ahmed falls from the steel deck thick with diesel oil and malice, through a rain unlike anything he’s known, and he glimpses an almost touchable shore, shameless, sharp and cruel, unreal and foreign, rich with waste and electricity, though the air’s not a thing to loiter in.
For these past 70 years, since 1951 in Korea, I have carried a 1000 Won Korean Banknote in my wallet with the signatures of all my squad members on the face of that banknote, our unit being Headquarters section, First Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division, when we were deployed on the far side of Lake Hwachon, and when squad members put their signatures on that bank note, given to me by a Korean worker assigned to our unit, Lee Bong Ha. He was a chief figurehead in his own right when he made a replacement crystal for a comrade’s broken watch crystal out of a plastic spoon, which was carried in many military papers under the title of “Time to Spoon.” Lee Bong Ha had been paid off from his government contract with a basketful of such banknotes, and passed them out like the near-useless paper that they were (some of them used for the most unlikely reasons you might think of.)
Joe’s body twitched in his bed, as he knew it would. He hadn’t slept since he left the war zone in Macedonia. Violent dreams with buckets of blood, screams in the night, these had been predicted in the article he had read. Now, safe in Amsterdam, he was living the symptoms.
There are forces in the city greater than the stream of cars and buses charging through the streets day and night, greater than the parades of pedestrians and rows of skyscrapers towering like giant chess pieces at war, and these forces combined are nothing less than the world wrapped into a fist, lodged just beneath the surface of the earth, ready to explode.
As all of earth once growled and gnarled its way to an instant conflagration, a calamitous roar, all its gears beginning to shift, in the near-middle of the last century, Saugus, Massachusetts, a small town just north of Boston, started to empty its bedrooms… the ones in the attic, in the space out over the garage, third floor second door on the left, the bedrooms facing on the pond or the cemetery or those looking broadly down on the wide marshes or quickly down on quiet Cliftondale Square. The bedrooms where boys cruised into manhood, almost overnight at that.