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A Poem About the Vietnam War Memorial

by Christopher Guerin | Permalink
December 06, 1996

I wrote this poem after visiting the memorial for the first time in 1985. I would greatly appreciate it if it could be forwarded to Maya Lin. Thanks.

The Vietnam War Memorial

At night it seems a hole in the earth, Until you walk down; the black wall veers To eye level and higher; the names multiply. The hole becomes a precarious ledge On a darkened corner of the world. At the apex, the shock descends, Like the percussion of monstrous hands: The enormity, if not horror, of war dead.

I'm surprised to find a humane memorial In spite of all that's been said. Each name has a voice we can touch, Trace with fingers, pronounce in the solemn Field of the mind; courage, death, stupidity, Are not reduced to three anonymous soldiers No one ever mentioned in a prayer.

Who are these people at 11 P.M? I lose count at thirty, when I'm pushed By a skinny youth, drunk, high perhaps, Stumbling up to the wall: "You taught me to smoke," He says, forehead pressing etched granite, "I'm trying to quit, Dad. You'd want me to by now."

I kneel, touch a poppy wired to a wreath, Strike a match to read a letter, typed, Unsigned, taped to the stem of the flower: "I can't forgive you for going but I won't forget I was your wife who let you."

Lottery number three hundred and twelve The year they took just the first fifty-two, I never had to choose to go, or anything else; That wall of names reproaches understanding.

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