Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Poetry by W.D. Ehrhart

W.D. Ehrhart is a Vietnam veteran who became involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War when he returned home. His work features prominently in a course on the Vietnam war I'm currently helping teach.

To Those Who Have Gone Home Tired

After the streets fall silent
After the bruises and the tear-gassed eyes are healed
After the consensus has returned
After the memories of Kent and My Lai and Hiroshima
lose their power
and their connections with each other
and the sweaters labeled Made in Taiwan
After the last American dies in Canada
and the last Korean in prison
and the last Indian at Pine Ridge
After the last whale is emptied from the sea
and the last leopard emptied from its skin
and the last drop of blood refined by Exxon
After the last iron door clangs shut
behind the last conscience
and the last loaf of bread is hammered into bullets
and the bullets
scattered among the hungry

What answers will you find
What armor will protect you
when your children ask you


Making the Children Behave

Do they think of me now
in those strange Asian villages
where nothing ever seemed
quite human
bu myself
and my few grim friends
moving through them
in lines?

When they tell stories to their children
of the evil
that awaits misbehavior,
is it me they conjure?

For Mrs. Na

I always told myself,
if I ever got the chance to go back,
I'd never say "I'm sorry"
to anyone. Christ,

those guys I saw on television once:
sitting in Hanoi, the cameras rolling,
crying, blubbering
all over the place. Sure,

I'm sorry. I never meant to do the things I did.
But that was nearly twenty years ago:
enough's enough.

If I ever go back
I always told myself,
I'll hold steady
and look them in the eye.

But here I am at last-
and here you are.
And you lost five sons in the war.
And you haven't any left.

And I'm staring at my hands
and eating tears,
trying to think of something else to say
besides "I'm sorry."