Saturday, May 2, 2009

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 vertex, 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 the black granite,
"I'm trying to quit. 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 the first fifty-two,
I never had to choose, to go, or anything else:
this wall of names reproaches understanding.