In memory’s kingdom we try to forget
the downsides of life and the sadness and sorrows
that when we recall them induce and upset
the cart that transports us to happy tomorrows.
We may spend a day in solemn memorial
of what happened once and still makes us downcast,
and read in a poem or brief editorial
events that transport us from present to past,
but quickly move back then to pastures much greener
than those where great tragedies once had occurred.
Forgetting’s not classified as misdemeanor,
and memories may feel more blessed when they’re blurred.
Written on Memorial Day, May 25, 2009, and inspired by Marc Porter-Zasada’s article “Random Access Memory” which he wrote inspired by a visit to the Veterans’ graveyard in Westwoood:
Random Access Memory
By Marc Porter Zasada
It’s a few days before Memorial Day, right here in the Kingdom of Forgetting, and the Urban Man has gone down to the veteran’s cemetery. Yes, the cemetery. Wait...don’t tune out just yet, my swift and belovèd Angelenos, zipping down the 405 to the next big thing; or just now heading home on the 10 with that nice full-day-at-the-beach feeling; or better yet rushing to apple martinis at your friend’s excellent after-the-barbeque bash...
You only have to do this once a year.
In fact, you don’t have to do it at all, since I have pulled off the 405 to serve as your very own ambassador to the L.A. National Cemetery, right near the Wilshire exit. Maybe you’ve seen it: that glimpse of many white headstones appearing briefly below the crowd of Westwood office towers as you head north.
I went last Thursday to avoid the rush. And sure enough, again this year as I parked among the low rolling hills, I was the only visitor I could see: For a time just me and 86,000 sleeping vets.
I’m sorry to say it wasn’t peaceful. The 405 runs right alongside on an elevated grade, so it’s never peaceful here. I figure even the dead are aware of us roaring ceaselessly into the future.
What do I do on these annual visits? I read a few headstones, here and there, out loud. That’s all. That’s it. I exercise a sort of Random Access Memory by reciting from what you might call the original memory sticks:
Charles O. Wesby, Colonel, 158th Infantry, Spanish American War. Walter T. Rowland, PFC, World War II. Bertrand R. Butler, PFC, Vietnam—I see that Bertrand died at age 18.
Here’s a crowd of fresh flowers and a bouquet of happy birthday balloons around the grave of Daniel Patrick Cagle, SPC, U.S. Army, killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom: born May 20, 1985, died May 23, 2007. Daniel had just made it to age 22. Obviously his family visited this grave just the day before, on his birthday, when they set up little figurines of pirates and Homer Simpson and other small toys, I suppose from his childhood. Birthday candles were stuck in the earth, reading “D-A-N.”
Okay, sorry, now I really am depressing you. I know that images should be more fleeting in the Kingdom of Forgetting, that the names should come more quickly, one after the other. I mean, what would happen if people here paused too long to recall not merely lost lovers and misplaced friends, but lost soldiers and far-off wars? And what if they actually remembered the 7 p.m. news when the 8 p.m. news rolled around? Here in the Kingdom of Forgetting, shouldn’t it always be the moment just after the last update?
It’s not like that in a cemetery, where one headstone does not disappear when you read the next. Here’s Robert Thomas Ayers the third, Sergeant, U.S. Army, Iraqi Freedom, died 2007 at the age of 23. And further on, Steven Vega, SPC U.S. Army, Iraqi Freedom, born 1984, died 2008. “Truly one of a kind,” it says on his marker.
Someone has placed fresh blooms and coins on the headstone of Jin Su Ong, PFC, U.S. Army, Iraqi Freedom, born 1987, died January 4, 2009. Me I add a coin, since I forgot to bring flowers.
Then the Urban Man looks at his watch, and finds he’s late for his next appointment. He glances up at the 405 and feels the tug of the current. Still, as he rushes toward his car, he tries to get in just two or three more names:
Paul Thornton, Apprentice Seaman, 1954. Richard Duncan, U.S. Navy, Vietnam. Edgar Lopez, Marine, born 1977, died in Iraq August 28, 2004, Killed in Action, awarded the Purple Heart.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 5/24/09