a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
MIA at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in August
At the black stones, we touched the letters.
Everyone stood with their myriad arms
brushing descenders and baselines. Only I saw
this name, and only someone else another.
Even the heat hoped for escape from the litany of losses,
DC’s convulsive light embossing dead soldiers
with our overwritten reflections. I tried to move
close to you until the flat blue
of the sky entered me and the polished black stone
came into me too. I was captured
and you were an ember I lost as hands touched
the carved word-bodies of targets and casualties.
If I’d stood there all day, I would not have read enough
of victims. I owed it to each man to enter
the small engraved symbol of his name,
but heat wove through me. What I did then was move
away from the scores, most no more
than children. I did not look at the tall wall of alphabet
going dark. Everyone was multiple, rotated:
the heat called me down — and I went down, kneeling,
as 57 thousand names shot up in front of me,
as I was swallowed and softened by silence.
In my twenties I exhaled into the safe testimony
of a man, let him pull on the hand
that had been broken many times. He put it
on his mouth and near his blue eyes. I didn’t know
the long rope of touch could save me — sinew woman,
woman of bowers and sagebrush, cramp-bark
and shepherds, woman untold. He couldn’t understand
the fissures and clefts of my tribe,
but he memorized the prayers I sang
because he saw how they opened my marrow.
Nine months we entered the temple and sat
to study oppression. I had learned it before. Each week
at our lessons, we niggled despair: the pogroms
and the curses, the sweet pulp of ancient interpretation.
When we left that office (a mountain of oral decree
and denomination), the city was larger — all din
and feasts as others worshipped action and shopping
and ordinary need. In the sanctuary on Saturdays,
my blue-eyed man tapped on my shoulder to say God
stepped into every line of the book. Was that important?
I knew the prayers as glass hills and gold islands.
Not rules. Not commandments. I had always been looking
for something less certain. Prayers held center; the chant
was a curtain drawn from the ark. A magic
of melody carried the meaning. Perhaps our outer walls
were not isolation. No, he wouldn’t have memory,
but he could forecast murmur and praise. Could see
what he saw, even pull closer, perceive all the gleam.
Lauren Camp is the author of This Business of Wisdom (West End Press) and editor of the poetry blog, Which Silk Shirt. Co-Winner of The Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2012, her poems have recently appeared in J Journal, The Perch and Linebreak. She has also guest edited special sections for World Literature Today (on international jazz poetry) and for Malpaís Review (on the poetry of Iraq). On Sundays, she hosts “Audio Saucepan,” a global music/poetry program on Santa Fe Public Radio. Online at www.laurencamp.com.