"Memorial Day, 1993"

by Lisa Parker

I saw Vietnam for real today,
not from the words of textbooks and teachers.
I saw it in its most raw form:
Primitive, wounding, private, and moving,
I was touched by a generation I was not a part of.
I saw the Wall in its entirety,
that immense black testament to the pain
of human lives reduced to marks on a rock.
Its smooth surface, warm with hands
reaching, touching, rubbing, connecting.
It offers open arms and solace to those who served,
the recognition, dignity, and respect they deserved
and were never rightly given
from their country, their fellow Americans.
In replacement of human arms to comfort them,
they take what refuge they can in a slab of black marble.
A man with no legs and seven medals
saluted that wall and wept openly.
I reeled at the irony of the image and
knew that I couldn't hide behind the textbooks anymore.
Once you have seen that kind of reality you are forever changed.
I touched that wall and I cried:
Cried for the wounded with their tarnished medals,
for my own late understanding,
for the sick beauty of flowers against the blackness.
I looked at the Wall with its silent mourning,
at the legless man with his head in his hands,
and the capital was silent but for a
Lonely trumpet stilling the air with "Taps".

© 1993 Lisa Parker

Lisa wrote this poem while she was a student at George Mason University. The poem inspired the cover for that issue (The 1995 Memorial Day issue) -- this pen-and-ink drawing of the Wall by artist Ferrilyn Sourdiffe:  

   

[More about poet Lisa Parker]  [More about artist Ferrilyn Sourdiffe]

 

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(page updated December 1, 1998)

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