In a class that I attended while in graduate school, Generation X Spirituality, one of the projects that our professor proposed was to make prayer beads. I decided to make a rosary because I have a devotion to that form of prayer. In one class, class members shared their individual experiences with prayer beads. I did not speak until the end of class when, from deep within me, powerful emotions rose along with the memory of a rosary that I carried for a while in Vietnam. A couple of years passed. However, the memory of my experience with that rosary and the memory of my emotional experience in class prompted the following poem.
They always broke
or disintegrated in my pocket.
The ones made of string rotted
when they got wet. The ones made with wire chain
kept breaking apart.
Then the reluctant solution, possibly a sacrilege.
I’d break off ten rounds of linked machine gun ammo.
That’d hold together.
I’d pray on them when we broke
in rice paddies, in villages, along
dikes, next to V.C. bunkers, while on guard, in basecamp,
in the field, on night or day patrol, under fire
So that I’d be able to love.
Something in me had begun to give up on everything else.
Credits: First published in Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace edited by Maxine Hong Kingston, Koa Books, Kihei, Hawai'i