American Life in Poetry: Column 688

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate


We honor the memory of the thousands who died in Vietnam, here’s a poem by Bruce Guernsey, who divides his time between Maine and Illinois, about Maya Lin’s memorial in Washington, D.C.

The Wall

Someone has opened a giant map

and with the tips of our fingers,

each of us suddenly blind,

we track the black cold of this monument

for names we know

like finding a route home.

Lost here

this damp spring morning,

the cherries exploding like the fourth of July,

we wonder how many maps of Viet Nam

sold those years,

so many strange sounding places.

One of us holds a magnifying glass

to McCarroll, McMorris, McNabb,

small print in the polished stone,

the way a neighbor, say, in Neoga, Illinois

might have done, late at night

searching that faraway land on his kitchen table,

hearing again the morning paper

thump against the front door,

that boy on his bike in the dark

grown and gone—what was his name,

that kid from down the block?

Khe Sanh, Da Nang, Hanoi.

for PFC William “Willie” Searle


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Bruce Guernsey, “The Wall,” from From Rain: Poems 1970-2010, (Ecco Qua Press, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of Bruce Guernsey. Introduction copyright ©2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.

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