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Southern Cultures 9.3 (2003) 90

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Vietnam War Memorial

Poetry by Robert Morgan


What we see first seems a shadow
or a retaining wall in the park,
like half a giant pool or half
an exposed foundation. The names
start a few to the column at
the shallow ends and grow panel
by deeper panel as though month
by month to the point of opposing
planes. From that pit you can't see much
official Washington, just sky
and trees and names and people on
the Mall and the Capitol like
a fancy urn. For this is a wedge
into the earth, a ramp of names
driven into the nation's green,
a black mirror of names many
as the text of a book published
in stone, beginning almost
imperceptibly in the lawn
on one side and growing on black
pages bigger than any reader
(as you look for your own name in
each chapter) and then thin away
like a ledger into turf again,
with no beginning, no end. As though
the black wall uncovered here a few
rods for sunlight and recognition
runs on and on through the ground in
both directions, with all our names
on the hidden panels, while
these names shine in the open noon.

Ed. note: This poem was originally published in Robert Morgan's Sigodlin (Wesleyan University Press) and will be included in his New and Selected Poems, which will appear in Spring 2004 from LSU Press.


Robert Morgan is Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of numerous volumes of poetry and fiction. He has received the James B. Hanes Poetry Prize and the North Carolina Award in Literature, as well as Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships for his work. Kirkus Reviews has called him the "poet laureate of Appalachia."