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Bryan Thao Worra

The Buddha of Bombies

There are more cluster bombs than people in Laos.
They stopped falling in the year I was born.
America left soon after.

The other day, a young woman I know saw people
Turning war scrap into fashionable bracelets.
No one considers turning them into statues of Buddha.
Recycling only goes so far out here.

A third of those who die every year are under 12,
Caught in the hot, swift center of flame and shrapnel
Dormant for nearly four decades.
Most of their parents weren’t even born
When these lethal leftovers were dropped.

In America, my nieces sing “London Bridge Is Falling Down.”
Laos, my nieces sing songs not to touch the “bombies.”

My new next-door neighbor is an old F-105 pilot my father picked up
From the Hanoi Hilton.
He knows my country well.
But we don’t have much to talk about, except our gardens.

My cousin flew into Afghanistan at the start of a new war.
We haven’t spoken in years.

I look at the pictures of hell in my mother’s temple near Modesto.
It’s a new year, and young children run with toy guns sold to them
By a vendor who could care less about karma and history.
Our monks bless every living thing in sight,
Hoping it will do some good, for a change.

Idle Fears

In the shade of a Cali Wat Lao I debate with Ajahn Anan
What the secret Rakshasa Sutra must really look like.

In Lao we call them Nyak or Yuk or Yak. It depends.
When they’re hungry, what do names matter?

I ask: “Does a zombie have Buddha nature?”

He informs me the mindless craving for brains
Complicates things.

He suspects Frankenstein’s Monster is closer to nibbana
But don’t quote him on that.

An American werewolf in Luang Prabang
Would stand no chance against a real Lao weretiger.
Both should still try to observe the five precepts as best they can.

If he was going to make a special wat for robots
He might name it Wat Lao Robobuddharam
But they would surely have to learn
To get beyond artificial binary worldviews.

“You aren’t going to turn this into a poem, are you?”
He asks.

“That’s nothing to be afraid of,” I assure him.

A Koan of 32 Kwan

Zen seems rare in Laos.
Easier to debate how many organs in the wandering body
A su kwan ceremony truly protects on a Vientiane outskirt
30 years since the end of a war strangers claim was secret.

After all of that chaos
In my realm of a million elephants, there are more shadows than sabaidees.
Who can speak of gateless gates or dvattimsakara or flowing samsara here?

Back in Minnesota, a clerk gazes at a baci string on my wrist
Wondering aloud what I want to remember.

She will go home without the words I barely know myself.
I will gaze at 10,000 lakes where the number 32 is rarely connected
To a human soul.

In Lao, mu means pig. Elsewhere, it may mean nothing at all.

Bryan Thao Worra is a Lao American writer. You can visit him at