Here Are Their Names

Jen Ashburn

At the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Washington DC

It is a long, low line, cut into the earth.  And here is life:  a squirrel pausing on a loping branch, earthworms behind the black marble pushing through clay, ants scavenging the turf.  A grandmother talks to a little girl.  She begins:  “There was a terrible war” and then slides into Spanish.  I understand mucha gente and los nombres, and create the conversation in my head.  Many people died.  Here are the names.  These men are not your great uncles or grandfathers.  You are lucky.  Yours made it back, or didn’t go.  Yet see how many names?  It was a terrible war.

No, that is not what she says.  Instead, I imagine she explains that all war is terrible and this one was fought 9,000 miles away.  And the girl’s great uncle fought in it and made it back alive, but a lot of boys didn’t and here are their names.  Or maybe the great uncle didn’t make it back and the grandmother says, “You have a great uncle, my brother, who died in that war.”  “Why did they fight?” the little girl asks and the grandmother says—

No.  This is still not right.

It is a long, low line burning in our earth.  It hurts. 
Yet—the grass, the squirrels, the trees, the little girl—

Jen Ashburn recently completed her MFA at Chatham University in poetry and creative nonfiction. She has work published or forthcoming in Grey Sparrow; Pretty Owl Poetry; Anak Sastra; The Poet’s Billow; Puff Puff Prose, Poetry and a Play Vol. II; and the anthology Make Mine Words (Trinity University Press). She lives in Pittsburgh.