Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | March 29, 2014

For Vietnam Veterans’ Day

I wrote this in the time I was dealing with some painful memories. With this bit of poetry I began seriously writing.  Vietnam Veterans were still routinely dismissed with barely-concealed nastiness. The refrain, “Soldiers should not make their own monuments,” has its roots in the fact that, in fact, soldiers and their supporters paid for The Wall. In a way, that makes the memorial more faithful to its reason for being.

The Wall

 

For the Vietnam Veterans of America
I. Roll Call

Arrayed in perfect ranks and files,
row on row,
gleaming metal and polished black,
sharp straight edges cutting the wind,
they stand
in static silent formation.
Only their nameplates speak…
a voiceless babble of American families,
no other speaks, or spoke, for them.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

Away from this place of silence,
this place of unheard voices,
(where a limp flower hangs,
pushed into a crevice of the black stone),
the nation erected proper monuments of heroism:
sinewy white marble demigods with laurels;
or helmeted bronze men, thrusting a flagpole upright.

These recall brass band parades,
bright red roses, gleefully flung into city streets
beneath gleaming, triumphant boots; V-Day kisses, tears of victory, of joy;
these, …in memoriam…in appreciation… are proper.
These tell sufficient truth.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

II. Personnel Files

Teachers filled their childish ears
with the rattle of musketry,
— Valley Forge, San Juan Hill,
and, yes, Antietam, Gettysburg, Atlanta, they believed. Believed nostalgic fathers, wistful uncles;
— grand visions of Over the top… over there,
Pearl Harbor infamy:
steaming Sands of Iwo Jima, Okinawa’s steel typhoon;
—Inchon landings and The Bridges at Toko-Ri.
Victory, heroism, glory.
“Glory, glory, hallelujah…” they believed
in “Duty, honor, country,”
with the Faith of Our Fathers,

and on silver Paths of Glory,
blazed into thousands of sunsets;
-on insubstantial contrails,
Blowing in the Wind evaporating in the heat,
leaving no track home.

III. Separation

Believing, they went…
then losing belief,
fought
– or, just endured
and changed.
Some died, most returned;

many to the silent muster of this wall;
more to await honors
from fathers who could not hear,
and children who would not listen;
making their own hollow parades in shabby fatigues,
down almost-empty streets.

These have made their own monument,
a prostrate memorial in black stone.

Soldiers should not make their own monuments.

 

 

 

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