Vietnam Women’s Memorial by Emily Strange

by Emily Strange

He lies unseeing and seemingly unconscious cradled in her arms
as she supports his broad shoulders and touches his chest
(even now her regulation hair bunned high above her collar)
She is a professional, hardened against the horrors of war
He is merely the present in an endless line of past and future

perhaps because she knows his eyes are blind
she has momentarily allowed her face to mirror her emotions
her eyes to reveal her heart
let slip the reality that she sees not only the wounds
but the wounded

Her skilled hands will treat the damage systematically
she will be methodical in her approach
But the shutter of her camera eyes
has allowed the scenes to seep into her heart
too many images indelibly engraved
of useless limbs in buckets of blood
and once handsome boys now faceless

She will never betray to him
as she goes efficiently about her work
that his pain is her agony
that a part of her will die with him
Her credentials manifest her mission to heal
There is no time to tend her own wounded heart

Clutching her arm in an unspoken bond
stands a strong, powerful woman appearing invincibly tall
back arched, shoulders braced against the yet unknown
but understood
Her baseball cap back on her head
open mouth deeply inhaling
pounding heart pumping the rushing adrenaline

Her posture portrays a self confidence
bought at the price of understanding fate
Her determination paid for
by knowledge of the consequences of hesitation

Eyes wide, unblinking, intensely searching heavenward
she waits expectantly as she steels her emotions
her indomitable spirit preparing for the inevitable

She will not fail her brothers
She will prevail in her mission
And she will feel nothing save her sense of duty

Almost hidden
by the protective sandbags
kneels a lone figure, isolated
neither touching nor touched by anyone

Staring down at the useless helmet
held loosely in her hand
her bowed head hiding her anguish
from those who wish only to stand and stare
boony hat pulled low over her eyes
so no one may see the tears
which might surreptitiously stain her cheeks

Her slender, stooped shoulders
can no longer bear the weight of the war
the memory of the suffering
neither theirs nor hers

That bunker she had built around her heart
sandbag by sandbag, with each wound and death
is beginning to crumble
It can no longer hold back
the shrapnel of grief and sorrow exploding within her
She is no longer the strong care giver
but now fragile and alone in her sadness
Knowing that she relieved the pain of others
does not help to ease her own pain now
always questioning whether she did enough

To fully fathom the depths of her torment
you must get very close, kneel down
and look deeply into her hidden eyes
the reflectors of her pain
Lightly brush her cheek
tenderly hold her hand
patiently listen to the screaming of her heart
the whispers of her soul
and gently let fall
your own tears
with her
for her

And finally,
you must stand
step back
and contemplate the whole
to perceive
that these three sisters are one
A circle portrayed by individual snapshots in time
of a past which ultimately bonds forever
we who served
the caring, brave and sometimes fragile women of war

emily strange