Craig Erick Chaffin
At the Vietnam Memorial
At the Vietnam War Memorial
Black granite stretches its harsh, tapering wings
up to pedestrian-level grass
but sucks me down, here, at the intersection of names.
I forgive, I must, though I wish something
could heal this wound in the earth.
Behold, all theorists, the price of theory:
extreme unction by napalm and blood,
vets shipped home whole or in pieces:
The VA grants prostheses
but not minds free of horror.
In jungles tumescent, through villages
of straw, by the Mekong where catfish
sleep in mud-heaven, we tramped,
disarming mines and flushing tunnels,
killing women and children
for potential collaboration,
smoking Thai-stick until stuporous—
still, the sound of Charlie
played on every frond.
Beat against this polished rock, America,
this vast projective surface for your sins,
wear your bloody heart out.
It's not how many died
but that they died in vain, achieving
nothing except our grief for them.
It's said you cannot write a good poem
until recollected in tranquility.
Let this then be a bad poem, bad as the war,
dividing author from reader and reader from page.
Let it drive a wedge between fathers and sons.
Let fathers mistake rebellion for disloyalty,
let sons mistake honor for stupidity,
let senators mistake appropriation for commitment,
let mothers confuse waste with sacrifice,
let sisters turn to prostitution to forget.
Let teachers suicide in public in partial recompense,
let preachers castrate themselves for passive assent,
let everything in America that breathes
hang its head in irrefragable shame.
Here is the legacy of your assumptions,
here the necropolis of your dark-suited wisdom:
A city set in a pit cannot be hid..
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