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.