WINNER ROBERT YEN
Iris Chang is the author of The Rape of Nanking.
Maya Lin is the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
—for Iris Chang and Maya Lin*
This was once a place for poets and painters
Here, by the memory of a bridge,
Along this matted bank once covered
In pennywort and peony and iris
Growing under the cool tree-shadow
If the dead once felt as we do, then surely
We can feel as they did.
And so, their suffering is remembered sometimes too deeply
By women young and far from home, but not—
Remembered in words
Or a line of stone spilling bright and elegant across a ravine
Hollowed by the shovels of men.
When asked for the names of the dead,
How should we answer? Shall we find them
Burnished in stone
Black as the absence of all light, or
Shall we sit by the river, listening
For their voices in the water of ten-thousand years
Roiling where once there was a bridge?
Life has a way, unfolding as it is meant to,
Like three birds crossing a very blue sky
Our sky singing.
Their song is the language of their tongues
But also of their hearts and ours.
Each flutter of wing altering, for all of us
That space, forever
Each breath surging from this world
Toward another seeking
Amends for what is left in its wake.
Soon enough we will all descend as widows
Into the fields of memory
Singing our final songs
Among the willows and mulberries
Along the banks of rivers where we bathed
Where, on the last black stones
We did not etch our names for eternity
But instead whispered to one another
The wishes of schoolgirls.
A River of Wishes
—the Soong Sisters, Shanghai, 1901