Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

For the Fallen

PBS airs Wyatt Prunty’s response to the The News Hour‘s photos of service personnel lost each week in Iraq and Afghanistan

May 31, 2011 Last night in commemoration of Memorial Day, PBS closed The News Hour with a feature on Sewanee poet Wyatt Prunty, whose poem “The Returning Dead” was inspired by the program’s nightly “honor roll” of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The program first aired in 2006.) Prunty is no stranger to combat—he served in Vietnam—though he claims no heroics: “I was a nearsighted gunnery officer, and I don’t think I hurt anyone,” he explains in an introduction to his reading of the poem. It begins this way:

     Each night I make a drink and wait for them
     They have become the day’s concluding news,
     Installments from a world without anthems
     Or children, unfocusing eyes

     A question that repeatedly rejects
     My easy terms. They are ones who believed
     And acted in the narrow and select
     Ways handed them, while ordinary lives

     Ran on without interruption
     Or bad pictures, as though nothing had changed
     Change is the one unanswerable question
     Of these faces.

Read the full poem—and watch Prunty read it himself—here. To read Chapter 16‘s interview with Prunty, click here.