Benjamin Goluboff

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Ho Chi Minh Orders Hundreds of Coffins Built for the Guerillas of the Tet Offensive, and Thinks About the Dead

Just days before the Tet offensive of 1968, the NLF cadres from the batallions that were to assault Saigon took their men – or so it was reported – to a certain place in the forest to give them their last instructions and words of encouragement. There, where the undergrowth had been cleared away for acres, they showed them the hundreds of coffins they had built for the soldiers who would be killed in battle. When they had seen the coffins, the soldiers, it seemed, felt happier and less afraid to die.

                                                    Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake

The dead are the agents of continuity.
They bind the generations one to another
and marry families to the land.

The dead outnumber us.
We are a stunted dwelling with a deep foundation,
a spindling plant grafted to old roots.

The dead are speechless and remember nothing,
but are the source from which
memory and speech procede.

The dead are the true guerillas:Artwork by Gene McCormick
fish, as Mao might have said, swimming in the sea
of the living: invisible and triumphant.

The old order sought to obligate the dead
and bind them to the living with
a thousand rites and offerings.
But the old order is now also dead.

Our revolutionary order seeks to fill
the office of the dead: to guide
and to sustain the living.

Memory and speech will soon reside with us.
Through us will the living come to the land.
We must become our own ancestors.


Benjamin Goluboff teaches English at Lake Forest College. Aside from a modest list of scholarly publications, he has placed imaginative work -- poetry, fiction, and essays -- in Hayden's Ferry Review, Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag, Cabinet, The Ilanot Review, Ascent, The Meadowland Review, Sleet, The Milo Review, Sugar Mule, and elsewhere. Some of his work can be read at