by Spencer Hyde
Lively. Not lively. I walk through the death fields in the shadows of green-freckled trees, alighting upon the newly unearthed bones of a generation whose struggles have been lost upon our thoughts. White butterflies fill my perspective and contrast the bloody loam. My faith in hope is lost and found with each kick of the wind by those frail, wispy wings. Kick. Kick. Kicking. The butterfly effect so often spoken of only reaches the edges of these fields and falls dead at an instant. No hurricanes will be created by these small things of wings. Kick. I kick against the pricks of sanity. I am at sanity’s edge. Kick. I look back and see half-in, half-out bones of a massacre, a genocide, a loss. Clothing sticks, still, to the still bones brittled with age. Colors have not completely faded. Sublime? Too strong. Perhaps I am simply awe-filled to such a dizzying degree that I can hardly swallow the idea that the clothing still holds a hue. Flesh may melt away in the bloodstained earth, but the clothing worn by that generation still holds some pigmentation. Colors that were nailed to the mast of the old ship genocide, a ship that sailed straight into the once-pits of these now-fields. Cambodia. Pol Pot. The Khmer Rouge. Phnom Penh. Politics more suited for university texts seeking some geopolitical explanation. I am not geopolitical. I am here, and only here.
Papers? I only have paper to write with. I have told the last questioner I am not a reporter. No. Not anger, sir, just curious. Ah! I see you ride a motorbike as well. Thank you, but I have plenty of petrol. What’s that? Yes, I speak a few languages. Sorry, no. However, your English is quite good. Ah, mine is simply good for travel. Yes, hopefully again next year. Yes. No. You too.
Kick. Kick. Break. The engine of a seemingly defunct motorbike kicks and a sapling breaks. Wind kicks my face as the trees shadow the gusted grass. The cloth upon the bones blows in the bluster. Weep? Too soon. Shock has a way of staving off tears. Dizzying shock has a way of forever submerging tears, until perhaps those tears arise from the heart next season when the butterflies cloud my view and kick the pathos-filled wind of an unforgotten generation, as I wonder where hope was when these once-pits were filled in these fields, these fields, these fields of death. No simple title may suffice. No easy passage for these memories. Woeful and godforsaken they hide in the earth, yet, yet, yet these people will be heard, half in the earth and half out though they are. Every spring more and more and more bones arise from the fields. Lost in the land. Found in the fields. Spring. Kick. A body falls into the pit. Kick. Another falls atop. Kick. Kick. The guns fire, yet the murderers have run out of bullets. Guns no longer kick out, spit out stolid metal with shadows of smoke. No shell discharged. No options. Wait. The deftness of a primitive hammer seems suitable now. Suitable to a cause leached of humanity. A massive dull-metaled mallet; skulls crush easily under the heavy swagger of this swinging tool. Kick. Bodies still twitch upon ostensible death. But gruesome? Not pressing nearly far enough yet. Not nearly strong enough. Not nearly. Not enough. Cambodia today in these fields is a world of yesterdays. A mind lost upon the kicking wings of the whitest flutters. I cannot glom onto even the most fragmented bit of reason. I cannot grasp. Too tired and weak from the utter thought of such an occurrence. Kick. Kick. The kids of some new generation kick the makeshift football formed of refuse. They pass behind my view. I cannot see them—simply hear the kick, kick, kick of the football formed from the best of things atop that refuse pile. Laughter? Too early. Too soon. Too early to hear such a thing piled atop this already blinding wonder of butterflies atop the skeletal structure of a people lost not by their choice, but by the choice of abused power. Blind power. Power without remorse or decency, devoid of morality. Wait. Yes. Power chose to kick these bodies into pits. Everything taken. Little abides. Little. Little but little bits of cloth. Color abides. Colored loss. Loss? Of lives and words, yes. Of generations and hope, yes. Of so much, yes. Yes. Yes. No hope can find you when you’re beneath a metal-dulled mallet intent on ending your life. No hope can find you when you’re beneath the barrel of a gun intent on throwing you dead atop your friend’s body below. Kick. Kick. Kicking, the men of ephemeral power grab the painter and drag him to the building where loss knows its political name. Tuol Sleng. Hill of the Poisonous Trees. An old man forced to paint. This man, Vann Nath, had to paint the death, the massacre, the genocide. Colors? Colors of the field Choeung Ek? None match the hate. No brush, no easel, no canvas can hold such pathos. The paintings still hang in the defunct building. Why?
Is it mine to ask? I can hardly stand, hardly look, hardly turn away, hardly sit, hardly move, hardly run, hardly soften my screaming mind of its raging imagery drunk on the idea of entire fields of death. The religious stupa leers large in my peripheral view, filled with the skulls of the victims. In memoriam. Electric shocking, hanging, waterboarding, raping. Iron bars, pickaxes, hammers. I keep coming back, I keep forgetting. Bullets cost too much. Killing fields are aplenty. The Death Fields. Unearthed are the kicks. Kicking are the butterflies. Kicking is the wind. Kicking against the pricks the brittle bones beset the landscape. I stand without motion, without movement. I watch this scene unfold as white butterflies smear the blood-red canvas. On the edge of insanity I pulse with intent. Kick. Kick. Kick.
Papers? I was on my way somewhere. Where was I headed? Ah! Yes. I was headed to Kosovo. Kick. The bike stand shoots into place and I hop atop the idling engine. Pristina’s hills are far, yet there is plenty to think about. Wind kicks my face as the bike holds fast to the sinuous roads of Eurasia. History is passed in moments. War‑torn villages looked over simply because I’m tired. Tired. My tires have ample tread. My mind is wearing thin. Thin. Clouds thinning over the Slavic landscape show the way. The roads are pocked by disused weaponry and misused aim.
No weapons matter now. This visit was merely to get away from the death fields. Get away to what? More death. Depressing answer? True answer. The sidewalks still speak of ethnic conflict. Each mark in the cement looks like a rose kicked into place. That’s what I saw. Rose petals created by bullets, petals placed in the pavement with tools of war, massacre, and killing. Petal upon petal. Life upon life. The Netherlands is my homeland. The Peace Palace is the only place to find privacy when looking for time alone.
Papers? I assure you this is my home, sir. I seek no audience with the decision makers of the Iran-US Claims Tribunal. No, I am not visiting the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Former? Yes. That’s what I said. Check again. Of course I was right; this is my home. No, sir, we are the second UN city. New York is first. I told you I don’t have my papers. No, I’m not from Rijswijk and I haven’t read Tollens’s poetry. Yes. As I said, I’m from here. Because I clearly ride a motorbike and have little room for large totes. Thank you, but my English is hardly “good” and I have to be going. No, I am not aware of your policies. I only kicked my bike to check the air in the tires. I am not angry, just confused. How can I get my papers if you are holding my bike? These are my sketch papers, no matter to you. Yes, stories. Not for the newspaper; they would not understand. Please do not read them, sir, they are personal. Yes, I realize you take security seriously. I take stories seriously. Of course some have humor. I really must be getting on. I am not in a hurry for any trouble. Please. Yes, I will have my papers next time. Perhaps a story for you. Yes. Next time.
Kick. Kick. At times my bike wears on my patience. Papers. Yes. This time they stay close to the chest. The desert wind is dry and quick. Pebbles kick into the air behind my shifting acceleration. Kick. My writing papers are those I remembered. My government papers are those I chose to forget. I enter the Cave of the Patriarchs in Jerusalem. Minarets reverberate the prayers calling God is Great before most have awakened. God is Great. Faithful Muslims have arisen for Fajr. Others sleep, making the Dawn Prayer sacrosanct. More precious than life. The Dawn Prayer. The Imam has been awake for hours. I enter the city and kick my bike to a stop. Musty. Thick. Air is tight and imposing. Kick. Kick. Kick. Hundreds of shoes are kicked off reverently into reserved space. Heads are bowed as the prayer leader continues his morning psalm. Morning. Yes, I feel different in the mornings. Contrast between light and dark is too obvious. Religious undertones are made into overtures. Too often. Too many preludes to a story. The gunman enters. Automatic weapon filled. Bullets are excessive. Many die. Kick. Kick. My feet are aware, in sync with the kicking piece of weaponry reciprocating religious fervor. Unequally reciprocated? Always. Hate. Kicks continue in my periphery as I cross the cave to my motorbike. Kick. Pebbles kick the wind.
Yes sir. My papers are important . . . to you. I am not traveling because I have no other options. I do not know these terms. I am called these because I travel? Yes. I have my sketch papers to write. No sir, please. Those writings are personal. I have those stamps in my passport because I must travel across the border. What? I do not know this word “collaborator” you call me. I am not government. Please. Kick. Please. Sir, that is my bike. Kick. Please. Sir, those are my personal things. Kick. Kick. What is my crime? Kick. I cannot breathe. Chains? Please, sir. Kick. Yes, I admit everything you want. Please let me live. Truth. Yes, I have told you all I know. Kick. Please, I cannot breathe. My papers? Kick. I have no papers.
Kick. I am no traitor. Break. Beg for a bullet? Please, I don’t know what this means. Kick. Let us talk. Friends? Sir, all I have left are stories. Little else abides. Kick.
The gun cocks into place and I stare into the fields beyond and apart. White butterflies kick the wind around me. Scared as I am, hurricanes of hope elsewhere begin to build. Petals fill the cityscapes. Elsewhere. Imam. The Dawn Prayer tells me God is Great before anyone awakes. Before we awake God.
Kick. Kick. Kick.