Loving From Vietnam To Zimbabwe Essay

After reading Janice Mirikitani’s poem “Loving from Vietnam to
Zimbabwe” there is a profound amount of imagery used by Mirikitani that
explains a reality of sex, love, and war. Mirikitani uses an interesting and
unique format in the way she has written her poem. The “I” that
Mirikitani uses is not referring to herself but rather another woman who is
Vietnamese, or many women whom are Vietnamese. She has essentially divided her
poem into two sides. One side, the left side, is where she reveals images of sex
and love. On the other side, the right side, is where she reveals the imagery of
war. By dividing her poem into two sides, she is able to describe two
conflicting issues that are part of the woman’s life or at some point had an
impact on her life and emotions. It seems as though Mirikitani is explaining
images from Vietnam. These images of sex, love, and war that she has written in
respect to, are not the sex and love that we know as Americans, but the sex and
love that was prevalent during the Vietnam War. Mirikitani wrote this poem in
1980, so it is possible that, she has some repressed images and feelings about
the war or war in general. Mirikitani begins her poem with images of sex and
love. By writing this poem, she has given a voice to many women from a country
torn apart by War. It is almost as if every image she has of sex is matched with
an image of war. This reveals how the woman must deal with two realities. One
reality is the life of a Vietnamese woman and another reality of sleeping with
the enemy. These two realities seem to be conflicting with each other and it
ultimately makes the Vietnamese woman feel that her situation is unresolved.

Mirikitani draws the reader into the subject matter of her poem by the use of
her figurative language imagery. She describes a relationship between a
Vietnamese woman and an American soldier who is of color. By defining the
soldiers skin color, she metaphorically correlates his appearance as,
“large/black like the shadowed belly of a leaf.”(Stanza 16, lines 3-4)
By this she is defining his appearance visually so that we see him as dark as a
shadow is. It also gives the feeling that this soldier is mysterious, and cold
blooded. The relationship that the woman has with the soldier is quite difficult
to understand, but without reasonable doubt, these two people have engaged in
sexual activities. On the sex side of her poem, which is the left side, she
visually interprets her experience with the man. Mirikitani uses several
extended metaphors to describe his body, “As I move into the grassy plain
of your chest” (Stanza 12, lines 3-5) is an example. Not only does she use
figurative language to describe the man, she also uses it to describe the
physical interaction between them. For reference, stanza seven is an example of
her figurative language that I am referring to. Because of their relationship,
the Vietnamese woman feels troubled because there is anger within her due to
what she feels the American soldiers have done to her people and their land. She
is un-eased about having sex with this man because of her anger. One way to look
at their relationship is to visualize that this woman and man are in a
relationship of love and that one woman’s lust for a man ultimately leads her to
pain when he is killed. The woman is left in a painful and agonizing state after
the man has been murdered; which gives the poem a slight twist at the ending.

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After she has left the images of the man’s death with us, she reveals that love
is dangerous and that, “loving in this world, is the silver splinting
edge.” (Stanza 20 line 1-3) Love has been painful to her and she has been
maddened and angered by it. Another way to understand their relationship is that
these two characters in Mirikitani’s poem do not love each other and are with
each other only for the means of sex. Mrikitani metaphorically describes the
parts of the man’s body as physical places on earth, “As I reach down onto
Mt. Inyangani.” She is not actually referring to Mt. Inyangani, but to the
man’s private parts. The relationship between the Vietnamese woman and the black
man seems cold and awkward. There is no love involved in their sex; it is merely
a physical relationship that has no meaning. She shows that she does not
understand what the man is saying, “As you call me strange names.”
This could be because they do not speak the same language or that these names
that he is using are strange and unknown to her. She uses the calling of
“strange names” again at the end of her poem when they have finally
engaged in sex. “I… feel you enter my harbor, kiss the lips of my soul.

Call me my Strange Names.” The sex that is taking place seems so sensual
and honest yet there is a continuing conflict within the woman, which ultimately
makes her maddened by her situation. On the right side of her poem, Mirikitani
uses images of the Vietnam War to show another side of the woman’s life. She
delivers raw images of what the American soldiers have done to her people,
“You have seen them hanging in trees after American troops had
finished.” (Stanza 10) She uses imagery to show how brutal war is. In much
of the same way war is characterized, cold and unsympathetic, her tone on the
right side of her poem has changed, it is a realization of what has gone on. She
knows that it is not the soldier’s fault completely for what has happened. Yet
the people they were killing were her people, people of her heritage, and the
people of the same blood as her. She feels that he was “pushed” and
that he had been “used,” by those “behind” him
“pushing” him and pulling his trigger. She feels her anger and then
goes on to describe the man’s death. By giving the recognition of, “My Lai,
Bach Mai” and “Haiphong,” it is almost as if his death is in
vengeance of the United States imposed attacks on these particular Vietnamese
cities. It seems as if Mirikitani is identifying a cycle of killing that will
continue because of war. Although it is difficult to always get into the poets
head for a better understanding of their work, we can see that at the end of the
poem, there is a silence in Mirikitani’s writing as she has given the
recognition to “My Lai, Bach Mai, and Haiphong.” She branches off to
her last stanza, which is on the sex and love side of the poem. She uses this
final stanza to give a final message of love. She evaluates love as a risk in
life, it “is the dare in the teeth of the tiger.” (Stanza 20 line 4-5)
She sees love as dangerous and painful. She mentions “jungle rot”
(Stanza 20 line 6) and “the madness of surviving” (Stanza 20 line 8)
which is an agonizing image that she puts into our heads so that we are able to
feel the power of love and war. We are given this image to take into account the
pain that this woman has faced. It is also the pain that many women like her
have faced.


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