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Today I am handing over my blog to the Vietnamese author Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, who has graciously allowed me to share her poem in honor of those who paid the highest prize.



Birds’ song knocks on the White House;
Lincoln’s smile resounds;
sunset soaks Washington in deep red.
The black wall,
fifty-eight thousand, two hundred and sixty-seven names I don’t
who fired gunshots into my mind,
their boot tips still drenched with blood.
I want to bury them once more.
Agent Orange flares up its color,
And the burning Phan Thi Kim Phuc
runs out from the rows of names.

Black, silent,
the silent answer for thousands of questions.

A tiny rose lights up a sharp pain,

a letter dim with tears that someone wrote
for his dead father.
“Father, today is my daughter’s birthday. I wish you were here
To blow with her the birthday candles. There isn’t a day that
Goes by without me thinking about you. Why, father? Why did
You have to go to Vietnam? Why did you have to die?

The rose petals wilt. Letters carpet below the Black Wall. Their
Words flicker and bleed.

I hear from the gloomy earth
the sounds of American fathers
carrying their babies in their arms,
their eye sockets like bomb-craters,
their hearts bullet holes.
Agent Orange lives in their bodies. Their blood
flows and drags their crying babies from their arms.

Every name on the black wall sinks into my skin
to become each face of the fallen Americans;
Washington this afternoon,
red sunset of tears?


Quế Mai originally wrote the poem in Vietnamese and translated it into English with the poet and Vietnam veteran Bruce Weigl.  She is the widely acclaimed author of 11 books and numerous other publications.  Click here for more information on her forthcoming novel The Mountains Sing.

Click here for a full profile of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai.

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Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, author

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