Memorial Day Poem

Here’s a poem about the moment Memorial Day started to really mean something to me.


I am in my room or reading
on the couch when David comes in
and asks me to come outside.
There is a familiar quality
in his voice, strange insistence—
I’ve heard it a few times before
when he’s asked me to hurry
into the living room. I think
something’s wrong, but it isn’t.
He just wants me to see a girl
on TV that he thinks is hot
or there is a documentary on
WWII or Vietnam and he wants
to share that fear with me.

But this time he is calling me
to come outside. It’s summer
and he probably needs a hand
hauling something from the garage
or handling something in the yard.
How long is this going to take?
But he just wants me to stand by him
as he looks up at the flag he puts up
every year. I don’t know it is
Memorial Day, only that it’s Monday
and I’m not in school.

And then he starts talking
all I still don’t know why
until he mentions the war.
I think he’s going to
look at me, or put his hand
on my shoulder, but he’s not
my father so he just starts
remembering Vietnam like
a bullet remembers its impact.
He doesn’t say that, exactly—
he doesn’t know how to say that.
Though I think I know
what he means until
he says how green it all was.

What? I think of Platoon
or Good Morning, Vietnam
and the color of wet money.
It was so green. It rained green
and we wore green—everything.
But when we put up that flag…
So I imagine seeing color
for the first time—and when
I open my eyes he’s looking
right at me. But he’s finished, so
I go inside, where I don’t know
what to say, so don’t.


Read other poems from Talking in the Dark:
Folding Sheets
3 1/2 Love Sonnets
Give It Wings

From Talking in the Dark (PUSH/Scholastic, 2003) by Billy Merrell, now available as an ebook!