Source: Wikipedia

Sometimes words fail me and when that happens I find poetry to be the best way to express that. One of my favorite poets is Yusef Komunyakaa. I’d been reading his poetry for several years when I was lucky enough to meet him after he gave a talk and read several of his poems. I went to talk to him afterward and words completely failed me then too, but he was friendly.

Today I’m re-reading his poem about his feelings as he stands before the Vietnam Memorial. An African American man, and a Vietnam veteran, standing before a black wall, seeing his own reflection as he reads names of those who lost their lives, feeling, perhaps, more than a little survivor’s guilt—this all speaks to me of things I haven’t experienced but something I too have to face.

Facing It

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.

Here’s Komunyakaa reading another poem:

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    No words, Chris, besides gratitude for what you share.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m grateful you’re here, Ann.


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