Poetry Sunday: Two poems for Memorial Day

The black granite wall with 58,000+ names in white that is the Vietnam Memorial, monument to the men and women who gave their lives for this country in that needless war that was the defining issue for my generation.  

Memorial Day 2014. Again we pause to remember those who have fought for this country and have given their lives in its service. Including those who fought in wars that maybe shouldn't have been fought, like Vietnam or Iraq, but nevertheless answered the call when their country needed them.

Memorial Day is especially meaningful this year as we contemplate the scandal surrounding the apparent failure of our Veterans Administration to adequately serve those who survived their wars and came home to broken promises.

Poetry cannot heal the pain we feel for their loss and for ours, but perhaps it can express it more succinctly and clearly than prose.

Here are two poems for this Memorial Day.

At the Vietnam Memorial

The last time I saw Paul Castle
it was printed in gold on the wall
above the showers in the boys’
locker room, next to the school
record for the mile. I don’t recall
his time, but the year was 1968
and I can look across the infield
of memory to see him on the track,
legs flashing, body bending slightly
beyond the pack of runners at his back.

He couldn’t spare a word for me,
two years younger, junior varsity,
and hardly worth the waste of breath.
He owned the hallways, a cool blonde
at his side, and aimed his interests
further down the line than we could guess.

Now, reading the name again,
I see us standing in the showers,
naked kids beneath his larger,
comprehensive force—the ones who trail
obscurely, in the wake of the swift,
like my shadow on this gleaming wall.


And lest we forget the survivors...

A November Trip to Washington D.C.

by Tim Patterson

Autumn. I took my tourist trip to see proud Washington
The Vietnam Memorial - Gone, but not forgotten
Ranks of fallen names silvered into darkness without end
Legions of lost youth, a count I could not comprehend
The weight of numbers crushed my soul, emotions overwhelmed
It gave no hope, no sympathy, no answers that I yearned
It simply stood accusing with its lesson white on black
Upon its polished stone, my own mortality stared back
The rain came down, I turned away and saw him huddled tight
A faded bag of unwashed clothes, his scrawling black on white
"Vietnam Veteran. Homeless. Hungry. Can you help, please?"
Flocks of umbrellas hurried past, intent on their own needs
No monument, no honour roll, for those who did survive
It seems there is no glory if you merely stay alive
The war is dead and buried, but its soldiers still fight on
True Vietnam memorials - Forgotten, but not gone. 

"...its soldiers still fight on...Forgotten, but not gone." 

On this Memorial Day, let us resolve that they will not be forgotten and that the debt we owe them will be paid with more than lip service.


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