Three Photographs (from the Vietnam War)

Driving south on Highway 89
along the west shore of Lake Cayuga
from Seneca Falls to Ithaca,
listening to a thin crackle of radio
before it’s lost beyond the hill:

Ken Burns is telling Terry Gross
the story of the Vietnam War
in three photographs —

A South Vietnamese general executing
a suspected North Vietnamese spy
just like walking down the street,
the moment the bullet strikes the brain

(why were we there, taking sides?)

A naked girl on fire, fleeing
her napalmed village

(the futile horrors we inflicted)

A young woman crouched over her dying friend,
shot by the National Guard at Kent State

(the war against our brothers and sisters at home)

and I say we and our because to seeing photos
on the front page of every hometown newspaper
made us all complicit in the violence.

Photo published for Opinion | ‘The American War’: Kent State was originally a footnote in Ken Burns’s documentary. Then...

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