Poetry Festival will be held:

Saturday, April 27, 2024

2017 Winner

Speaking in Dragon Breath

On June 10th 1963, Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc burned himself alive to protest the Diem regime in Vietnam, his act was recorded in Malcolm Browne’s Pulitzer prize-winning photograph.

He lifts himself from the car

Sucking in the air he can

before fate leaves him


He is about to speak

without his own words

but the words of the dragon.

He remains silent.


A young monk offers himself instead,

but it was old men who shackled them.

A Christian tradition preaching mercy,

now preaching tyranny of the minority.

But this old man will set them free.


He sits on the pillow,

assumes his final position,

and a rain of gasoline slithers

down his body.


He remains silent

even as the match is struck

even as it falls to the ground

even as the flames snake on the ground

even as they climb up his body

even as the heat sinks into his bones.


As he is engulfed the city

finds, for once, silence.

The only sound heard

is a dragon breathing.


He remains silent.


The tongues of fire

now lapping upon his flesh

cry out his protest

for the world over to hear


The dispersed crowd

now joins with the police

in a prostration honoring

his struggle, and wishing him



He remains silent,

but has spoken more in minutes

than many do in a lifetime.


Thomas Vasquez

Gonzaga College High School

Grade: 12