Vung Tau

by William Doreski

At dusk the beach at Vung Tau
still hoards dozens of families
under wide green umbrellas
that look more like lily pads
than actual lily pads do.
Further down the strand, a sprinkle
of more elaborate umbrellas
in many commercial colors
shelters the growing middle class.
An island cringes like a hedgehog
as it settles into the horizon.

When I first stood on this spot,
alert to the breakage of war,
I felt small enough to burrow
into the sand and lose myself
in the final gasps of childhood.
The gunfire tapered off in clack
of rotor blades decades ago.
Two million dead rejoiced
so silently no one noticed.

Now the flamboyant sundown
laps at a ruled horizon
of the purest silver I’ve seen.
Although the beach faces east
the pigment warping the sky
looks ripe enough to lavish
on any permeable surface.
A flag flutters on a pole stuck
into the modest rumple of surf.

Behind the beach a couple
of concrete apartment blocks
offer lucky inhabitants views
they can savor into the night.
Motorbikes parked on the square
tick as their small engines cool.
I hadn’t thought to return here.
The lost war still churns somewhere
in the shadows inside me,
but the long beach receives me
with that universal beach-smile
everyone accepts as their due.

William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.