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Author's Name: Teddy Norris

Title: "The Moving Wall"

In the late 1990's, the Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, came to the campus of St. Charles Community College where I was an adjunct English professor.   In my evening creative writing class I frequently incorporated special presentations or exhibits into the assignments, often writing about the experience along with my students.  Although I had not lost any family members or close friends in Vietnam, those of us who came of age during that time felt the War's effects.  My evening visit to the Wall that fall took me back to a sad and anxious time more than two decades earlier, and I wept and wept there in the dark.  Later I wrote this poem, which was published in the College’s literary magazine.  

The Moving Wall

Hard cold wall of black
Memorial to our dead
Warmed by viewers’ tears

By torchlight the wall is black reflective glass.
The many thousand names not easy to read
On this replica that has traveled here
To grace, briefly, our small Midwestern town.

Mementos tucked against the panels’ base
Are powerful, though softened by the dark,
Like toys glimpsed guarding sleeping babes.  
Simple symbols that can stop our hearts.

In the darkness visitors are faceless shapes
Who’ve come to view, to grieve, to heal.
Some walk slowly past, while others pause
To touch, to stand in awkward awe,
To bow their heads or kneel, to search
For names, like other families clustered round
Who, once a name is found, speak in murmurs
Only they can hear or comprehend.

The acrid smell of mulch beneath my feet
Pricks my nose, sharpens the salt I taste.
My tears distort the rippling row of flags:
Precious glory reflected on the glossy wall.

A decade drops away and I am back
At my first visit to the full-scale testament.
The names were much more visible in the light,
Albeit no less difficult to read.
So many, spread across the wall and time
Spanning grief’s expansive range of circumstance.

When I first saw it in the glare of morning sun
Our wounds were newer, anger younger then.
But once again I feel the paradoxic power
Commemoration has to cauterize our pain.