A Rose for Iris Chang

Like a stern goddess she stands
before the stairs ascending to the terrace
in the brutal heat of late July.
She told her story,
the one she had heard from her parents
when she was a child,
then was consumed by the demons
of her own mind.
It doesn't seem fair.

In the heat of the day,
sweat—or was it blood?—dripping
from every pore in my body,
I ascended to the terrace,
calm returning after stumbling around
underground in the museum of horrors,
the "pit of a thousand corpses":
a severed head on a fence rail,
a cigarette stuffed between the lips in cruel mockery;
bodies strewn along the banks of a river,
an awkward protrusion of legs and other body parts;
a naked woman bound to a chair,
her legs forced apart,
another lying in the street,
a bayonet rammed up her vagina ...

She told her story,
their story,
and her suicide was okay:
it seemed part of it.

A half hour later, over at the ruins
of the Ming Dynasty Palace,
swirling cloudy skies suddenly
burst, flashed, boomed, crashed;
then the heavens shook and sobbed uncontrolably.
The kindly woman with the little shop
at the entrance gate
brought out a blue plastic stool for me,
and we sat and watched the monsoon rains
flood the grounds of the once-great palace,
now grass and a few broken statues.
by Louis Martin