(This is a poem I wrote about the portable Vietnam Wall when it came to
Tarentum in 1992)
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
It appears typed on a plastic band
wrapped around a newborn’s wrist
as a mother twirls it and smiles.
It’s put on first birthday,
first Christmas presents
and all the ones to follow.
It takes shape when small fingers
use yellow pencils
and letters of the alphabet
trying to define who they are
while the teacher looks over their shoulder.
It follows you through
neighborhood pranks under summer sun
and sled-riding as snow sticks to red cheeks.
It’s your mother calling you to dinner
and breaking up a brick-street game
of hide and seek.
It’s on report cards, honor rolls.
Sometimes it’s left off the list
because you didn’t make the team.
It’s what your friends yell
before you get a nickname.
It’s your nervous hand as you fill
out your driver’s license application.
It’s on your diploma – etched in gold –
It’s there under the American flag
when you register for the draft.
It’s scratched on the bottom of letters
sent from stick-to-your-skin Vietnam
to girlfriends in L.A. barrios, Midwest farms,
rusting steel towns and N.Y. ghettos
as you pretend everything’s OK
and you’re not afraid.
It’s written in a million places
to mark where you’ve been.
It’s on death certificates that fall
through mail slots across America.
It ends up on a black wall
next to the names of thousands
of other soldiers whose souls
cry for recognition
while loved ones trace
each letter slowly
as their shadows merge
in the wall
and a single rose falls
in slow motion
toward the earth.