Facing It

Poem for a Tuesday — “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa

“My black face fades,   

hiding inside the black granite.   

I said I wouldn’t  

dammit: No tears.   

I’m stone. I’m flesh.   

My clouded reflection eyes me   

like a bird of prey, the profile of night   

slanted against morning. I turn   

this way—the stone lets me go.   

I turn that way—I’m inside   

the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

again, depending on the light   

to make a difference.   

I go down the 58,022 names,   

half-expecting to find   

my own in letters like smoke.   

I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   

I see the booby trap’s white flash.   

Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse   

but when she walks away   

the names stay on the wall.   

Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s   

wings cutting across my stare.   

The sky. A plane in the sky.   

A white vet’s image floats   

closer to me, then his pale eyes   

look through mine. I’m a window.   

He’s lost his right arm   

inside the stone. In the black mirror   

a woman’s trying to erase names:   

No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”

in Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)


Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He served as a war correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star. His poetry reflects the cadences and influence of jazz and his grandparents, who were church people: “the sound of the Old Testament informed the cadences of their speech.” He takes on complex moral issues: the Vietnam War, his experience as a black man, and the underside of life in America. He lives in New York City where he is Distinguished Senior Poet in NYU’s graduate creative writing program.


Vietnam War Memorial — Washington, DC

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