Poet Responds to Lists of Americans Killed in Iraq

March 21, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

WYATT PRUNTY, Poet: My name is Wyatt Prunty and I served in the navy during Vietnam.

I was a near-sighted gunnery officer and I don’t think I hurt anyone.

That was a difficult time for many; difficult for some of us because while we disagreed with the war itself, we believed we could not refuse to serve.

A love of writing

Years later, I started the Sewanee's Writer's conference and Sewanee, Tennessee is where I now live and write.

My wife and I have watched the NewsHour since its beginning, which means we've had a good long marriage.

The NewsHour Honor Roll

For three years we've studied the faces of soldiers from all regions and backgrounds in America. They are the ones the NewsHour has broadcast as its "honor roll."

What I'm going to read is a response to those lost, yet so permanently-set people, whose lives are our mute gift.

The poem is called: "The Returning Dead."

The Returning Dead

Each night I make a drink and wait for them
They have become the day's concluding news,
Installments from a world without anthems
Or children, unfocusing eyes

A question that repeatedly rejects
My easy terms. They are ones who believed
And acted in the narrow and select
Ways handed them, while ordinary lives

Ran on without interruption
Or bad pictures, as though nothing had changed
Change is the one unanswerable question
Of these faces. The world can rearrange

Itself repeatedly, but these remain
The same, silent in everything they lack;
That's what they've come to, in places with names
Like Afghanistan, Iraq,

And this is the way it happens: the words
Are old - mother, father, home - and will catch
Surrounding currents in the slow absurd
Descending will of any river etched

Out of a landscape history refines
To myth. The TV blanks between
Segments, but every static face defines
Itself, holds stubbornly its private sceneâ?¦

Fixed, publicly, as we are led
Back to that little negative whose lack
Is each of us, staring the staring dead,
Leaning, sometimes like grief itself; then straightening back.