The War Cemetery at Kanchanaburi, Thailand

We stroll safely across the railroad bridge
on the River Kwai—not of course
The Bridge
on the River Kwai built
by David Lean or Sessue Hayakawa
for Alec Guinness blew that one up
at the resolution—nor of course
The Bridge and its Railway to Burma built
by the Japanese
on the backs of imprisoned Brits, Aussies,
French and Dutchmen picked up as the rising sun
set the empires of Europe down for a while
for the Allies brought that one down
at the end—nor of course
The Bridge and its Railway to Burma
the very same
built with the half-million Asian hands
passed in the night from one set of masters
to another.

The tracks lead to perfect rows of crossed head stones
atop Kanchanaburi’s hill: the resting place
at last for tortured white men who died
between rival dreams
of Empire. They lost their battle and their lives,
but their nations won the war and marched
unchastened by experience or irony
their soldiers back to rule Rangoon and Batavia,
Singapore and Saigon

and to scour the ruined Railway
to retrieve the bodies of the mates who built it
and built in turn a chain of cemeteries
along the Burma Road like this above
the new bridge on the River Kwai.

These exhumations were as horrible, they say,
as building the Railway itself
for the veterans had to lift with care the big bones
of white men from the quilt of Asian corpses
left to rot in the soil of reclaimed colonies.

– james penha