National Poetry Month April 11, 2020
Reflections: The Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, Washington DC
You reached up
and pointed to the name
in the polished stone:
a paler you reached up
and touched your fingertips
one of fifty-eight thousand,
three hundred and seven
graved into the black gabbro
is the nation’s acknowledgement
of the gift of life.
You have known
for four decades and more
his life was no gift;
that indifferent politicians,
bombing, burning and shooting
in the name of freedom,
had asserted their inalienable right
Tokens at the wall –
crosses, flowers, flags,
unwanted articles of war –
veterans have left scrawls,
whose confusion cries out
from this numbing
crescendo and diminuendo
of plutonic dark.
You see yourself among the dead,
through tears you cannot name.
1. What inspired you to write this poem?
Some years ago I visited the memorial to the Vietnam Veterans in Washington DC. People were searching for names, and there were various tributes and messages at the bottom of the black wall. I found the whole experience very moving as I thought of the loss of so many lives in what I’d believed was a disastrous effort to retain hegemony over South Vietnam.
2. What do you like about this poem?
It is ‘straight from the shoulder’, laying out sadness and blame.
3. What would you change about this poem?
Nothing (though I’m rarely satisfied with the poems I’ve written – I spend a lot of time on them before sending them out).
4. Where, when, and how often do you write?
I’m now in the role of carer, so I write in my study as and when I can.
5. What poetry books are you reading right now?
Blake Morrison’s Shingle Street; David Constantine’s Collected Poems.