Friday, January 17, 2014

Wandering Souls

"Wandering Souls"     water color by Jan Barry

In Vietnamese culture, travelers, fishermen lost at sea, soldiers killed in battle but whose bodies aren’t found and buried at home are called wandering souls.

“Vietnam is filled with angry ghosts. Killed violently, buried without ritual, spirits roam resentfully…” notes the summary of a recent BBC documentary called “Wandering Souls” about American veterans returning to Vietnam, “haunted by ghosts of their own,” to try to help find the places where Vietnamese our military operations killed may still remain.

Besides the mountains of grief the long war I served in caused so many, I feel like a wandering soul every winter holiday season and into January, the time when my wife was dying of cancer 12 years ago, which triggered long buried survivor guilt from the war. I tried conveying that double dark night of the soul in a water color painting that I worked out in a VA Vets Center art workshop.

The painting conveys some of the raging river of grief I wrote out in midnight jottings shortly after my wife, Paula Kay Pierce, died:


I’ve seen
the other side
and the river’s
not wide—
between here
and gone

por favor!”
she said,
near the end,
like a child
in Panama
and Brazil,
her eyes
no longer
her family
around the bed,
or the home
she made,
or me

Nobody Else

Nobody else can
do my grieving
for me—
I have found I need
to go to quiet places
where she and I
loved to go—
to parks and forest paths,
canoeing spots on
secluded streams—
to find how much
of our life was her,
and how much of life is me.

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