This was originally written in 2000, and refers to an open letter, drafted in the late 1990’s, that was directed to “the Anabaptist-Mennonite family of churches.” The letter can be seen here.
(On Reading the Welcome Letter)
That there might be blood in a list of names,
Soul in paper or marble or text on a screen;
That there might be light in a line of letters
In line after line of Miller, Yoder, Smith, Doe.
I only read names, but read and weep and ache;
I touch the names and feel the sadness here.
Names. Names with towns and states appended
Giving a vague geography, or lack of same
To a call that’s grown quietly, slowly, and late;
So many names I wish were here, but all the more
Precious for that, these names I am reading,
Knowing a few by face, but most of them only by
Name. His name. Her name. Our names.
I stood once before a harsh blade wedged in the earth
Watching people shuffling past staring sadly at
Names etched in black marble, in which one could
See oneself behind the names, among or beneath them;
Names of the dead, but still they breathed somehow
As loving hands rubbed them with paper and pencil
Hoping to take that bit of breath along. I saw that
Many who read the names were weeping, as did I.
I waited once in a hallway filled with names
Of people whose money had built the building that
Housed the hall, and kept their names in glass
For hundreds to pass every day and ignore.
Watching my reflection in the glass covering,
I studied the names on a plaque, and tried to
Picture this living woman or man writing a
Check larger than I can fathom, to have their
Names etched in that hall of forgetfulness.
The names I see appended to this letter, now, they
Hover precariously between the blade of remembrance
And the hallway of forgetfulness. Yes, there is a sort
Of death here, a sort of heroism, a sort of mourning,
But also a wondrous gift, beyond the signature on a check.
Seeing my own name there, among the other names is
Different from seeing my reflection in marble or glass.
I wish that this time the names on the list would
Spell something other than someone’s death, or
Someone’s memory locked in a case. I wish these
Names would bind the hearts of all who’ve signed and
All who read. But death still haunts this list, I think, in
Forms of fear, forms of hate that would be love, but love
With fists instead of open arms and hands.
In the face of death, may these names breathe and live.