Poetry Tow Truck #22: In Memoriam

On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who gave their lives in the service of country.  For today’s prompt, consider the soldier, current or veteran.

You may have a serviceman or woman in your family, or you may want to think about the military in history or in the news: current embedded troops, past wars, the repealing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell back in December of 2010.

Every year, the middle school where I teach takes its eighth graders on a trip to Washington, D.C. on Veteran’s Day weekend. One of the highlights is always the fact that students often get to meet veterans while visiting the memorials, which gives them a much deeper understanding of why the memorials are there. For our example today, here is a poem I wrote during our visit last fall.

Veteran’s Day at the Wall or Why You Should Talk to Strangers


Cold. The boomerang of granite like a wound.

Waiting at the east end for my group of touring

teens, the quiet unbroken. An elderly man, sharp

in a khaki overcoat and a ranger’s beret, leans

on a cane with his left hand, salutes with his right,


and crumples into tears. Misty. Dark. No one but

me to see him. I put my arm around his broad

shoulders, ask if he is okay, if he is alone.

He nods yes to both, turns into my shoulder

like a frightened toddler and weeps. He lingers,


muttering – so many memories, so many gone.

He is not ashamed, and I am not afraid.

For a moment, we are connected, his pain

comforted and diffused by the simple act

of noticing. From the time we are young, we


are taught not to trust, not to talk to strangers.

But imagine that this man was your father, your

grandfather, alone with his grief in a ungrateful

world. You would not just watch him suffer. You

would reach out – you would give him your hand.


Whether you write to this prompt or not today, and whatever your politics may be, take a moment to be grateful for the people who choose to serve,


12 thoughts on “Poetry Tow Truck #22: In Memoriam

    • Thanks, Annette! It was a moment that I will remember- my students were rather freaked out that I would make contact with a stranger. I hope it taught them something about compassion.

  1. I was so moved by this beautiful poem (featured at poets united) that I came over to visit.

    Wonderful writing that captured a very special moment.

  2. As a Scot, I remember seeing so many ‘Scottish’ names on this wall when I visited Washington about 10 years ago. It is the sunken nature of the wall and its curve to destiny that strikes you, but more than that it is the reactions of the people inwardly and outwardly that make you draw breath.

    This is a great poem of power in the way you have set the stanzas, how you have used stub sentences for effect and pause – because pause is what the Wall is all about.

  3. Pingback: Friday Freeforall: Poetry Prompt Madness « Margo Roby: Wordgathering

  4. Donna, I saw this posted at Poets United, but I wanted to say something here too. It’s beautiful – and to discover that it’s based on a real experience – even more so. This moved me – as a man, as a father, as a teacher, as an American. Thank you for your wonderful words – and for sharing them with us.


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