The Navy Hymn
Yusef Komunyakaa, b.1947
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.
The poet speaks of his first time seeing The Wall that honors our war, which was his war and my war, our war. It wasn’t The War, which in my father's mind was WW2, held in my grandfather’s mind as WW1. In his father’s mind The War was 1860-65 with anger, hatreds and bitterness holding on for decades after. An Episcopal priest like me, he called on General Sherman at his yacht anchored in St. John’s River. Reginald Heber Weller, my great-grandfather, was rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Florida. Family legend is that when he returned home that day his wife Caroline Cordelia demanded, “Heber, did you go out to General Sherman’s yacht?” “Yes, dear.” Tension stirs. “Heber. Did you give Holy Communion to General Sherman?” “Yes, I did, Cordelia.” Disgusted, outraged, her angry spout, “Heber Weller: wash your hands before you come in this house.” Storms inside, door slams.
My first time seeing The Wall was that late afternoon, early evening January 1988. Just over an hour after leaving Harrisburg where we had met newborn grandson Raymond Thomas Kelly, we were on the road home to Apalachicola, and stopped because I insisted: it was my war, I had to see it. Late, not a good time to stop, the darkening day was cold, wet, raw, hint of rain, a few freezing drops. Unlike Yusef Komunyakaa, I hadn’t “said I wouldn’t dammit: no tears.” So going where Yusef remembers, my white face clenched as frozen as the black granite from which, hiding among the names lest anyone see tears, it stared back at me.
Not a good time to stop, it was first, best, perfect, only time to stop, a personal memorial day. As Spragg wrote, "it made the day as different as if there were a death." We didn't know then, but later found out it was the day Bob Crosby died. Buried just across the bridge at Arlington, Bob, whom I assisted at the wedding of Jack's father and mother in Trinity, Apalachicola. Saturday, Bob officiated and pronounced. We blessed the marriage together. Then I celebrated Eucharist and Bob assisted. Sunday morning, Bob preached in that, my church. I didn't see him again --
I've been to The Wall. That day. Years later with Kristen’s class of Holy Nativity Episcopal School. Sunday during The Hymn.
Memorial Day 2014
Eternal Father, strong to save
Eternal Father, strong to save
Memory takes me to sea in warships
dammit: no tears
I'm stone. I'm flesh
I'm not stone.