At the Vietnam Memorial
By David Joseph


The wall is crowded,
names etched back to back,
glossed in copper and gold.
Texas farmboys sprawling
southern drawls and maams.
Soot-faced steelworkers
mumbling - the Allegheny hills
far from the swamps of distrust.
They are bound by little
other than the location of death,
listed in the precise order,
received from this world of slate.
In this long, graved stone,
unlike the house of God,
the cross fails to signify religious belief,
marking only the spot unknown
where the body fell, a reminder
of the sad bones left to rot,
yearning to go home.


We walk slowly, half-turned
toward the silent barrage
of letters that steep fast
towards the capitol building,
names as shaded and dark
as the capital is white, wall
as much a part of the earth
as the capitol sky.
In the opposite direction,
under the fading light,
the curls of schoolgirls pass,
dragging their free hands across
the fallen, tracing sunken names,
as if to pull the sky upwards
or wipe the tears of a country
from memory.


I completed my graduate work in poetry with James Ragan at the University of Southern California, where I was a recipient of the Kerr Fellowship. Most recently, I have taught in the General Education Program at Harvard University with Dr. Robert Coles, and I currently teach at Pepperdine University. My poetry has appeared in DoubleTake Magazine, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, The Southern California Anthology, and The Maryland Poetry Review.


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