Stephen P. Miller


What can I say to ease the truth
of what we both know?
Do I speak about how you live on the other side
of this wall and can never come out and talk.
How you died on my birthday, February 24, 1971,
22 years after I was born.

Do I let my anger show and explain the injustice
between death and life?
The thought destroyed by a bullet nobody heard
until it was too late to say duck.
Should I speak of playing baseball?
Tell about times fishing.
How you caught the salmon running upstream
before we lost our childhood to a war
which marked its passing.
Do I strip away the facade?
Explain how you really died.
Mud on your face.
Stomach in my hands
words falling to earth in soft prayer.

Kawachika talk to me.
Tell me what to say to friends, family
who grieve 15 years later.
Our minds still searching for the smile we knew.

Arthur, get off that wall.
Roll back that stone and we will bet on the forty-niners,
raise families, drink beer. You can be anything:
a painter, an engineer, the mayor, president of a
corporation, a carpenter, janitor, doctor, teacher,
drunk. It doesn’t matter.
There will always be friends and food.
Birthdays to remember.
Weddings. Walks where the wind makes the giants laugh.
Please, Arthur, tell me that the dead can hear in the cold
brittle silence that surrounds this wall.

But you cannot do this.
The dead cannot come back and talk to the living.
The missing in action are still missing.
The suicides are gone.
We won’t listen to the ones in prison.
Or dying from Agent Orange who keep telling us
that once dead, life is over,
the mess left to be cleaned up by the wounded.

These are the truths of war.
The child without a parent or parents.
The parents without a child.
The wife without a husband.
The husband without a wife.
The missing uncle, brother, niece, sister, aunt, nephew,
grandfather, grandmother, cousin Billy, Jack, Jim, Frank,
Bob, Steve, Sally or Sue.
This is what we have come to pay tribute to:
The loss of all the humans on and off the wall.
The loss of the meaning of what they could have become,
of what they were.

And so Kawachika what can I say –
That I love you.
That I have never met you.
That the dead cannot talk.
That the living have come to mourn
what they cannot speak of, though our tongues move
and our eyes water:
Will you understand
My wanting to touch your name?
Leave this poem beside your mark on this wall,
me giving from this side, you receiving from that
the space between us greater than anything
we have ever known.

Author’s Note: This poem was written for and read at a Dedication Ceremony for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall Replica in Redwood Park Arcata, California, April 18, 1987