James Lenfestey’s “At the Vietnam Memorial”


James Lenfestey is the author of several poetry collections, including Saying Grace, Affection for Spiders, The Toothed and Clever World and Han Shan is the Cure for Warts.

A while back I wrote about a documentary called “Cold Mountain,” all about the Tang Dynasty poet Han Shan. Lenfestey features prominently in that documentary, and is a great devotee of the eccentric character from 12 centuries ago. It inspired Lenfestey to write A Cartload of Scrolls, a collection of 100 poems written in the style of Han Shan. Here’s one of them:

At the Vietnam Memorial

His name ambushed me out of black granite, a college friend.

And with his death, a vow revealed carved on my heart

these thirty years: We who stayed must also pay.

They carried dead back to the chopper, we only carried water.

This is the way it is for us who did not go,

no matter how hard we fought to save those crouched in this dark wall.

There is no release from this blood vow

’til our names too are carved on polished stone.

– “At the Vietnam Memorial” by James P. Lenfestey, as it appears in his collection of poems A Cartload of Scrolls, published by Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.