In the world before this one,
           all my lovers fell to my feet
like soldiers in a bombed gully.
           I placed framed photographs
of them in the Thien Mu Temple,
           arranged fresh oranges on a plate.
August 1963: Thich Quang Duc
           took a baby-blue Austin Westminster
to Phan Dinh Phung Boulevard.
           He sat in the lotus position
while another monk poured petrol
           over his darkening robes.
Police in white-and-khaki uniforms
           kept protesters from hurling
into the flames with their batons.
           Black smoke exploded like wings
from his body, which did not move
           except to bow before the Buddha.
When he fell back on the street,
           a camera lunged forward to record
his final minutes in this universe.
           Everything burned
but his heart, which remained intact
           and wrapped in sunlit cloth.
In dreams, I touch his handsome face
           and blaze in the battlefield
where my past loves wait.
           I’m the field. I’m the fire
unwilling to release them in fear
           no one else will want me.

Paul Tran is a Pushcart-nominated poet & historian. His work appears in Prairie Schooner, The Offing, The Cortland Review, RHINO & others. He's received fellowships & residencies from Kundiman, VONA, Poets House, Lambda Literary, Napa Valley, Home School Miami & the Vermont Studio Center. Paul lives in NYC, where he's the first Asian American to represent the Nuyorican Poets Cafe at the National Poetry Slam & Individual World Poetry Slam in almost 20 years.