I am a second generation American. My dad’s parents emigrated to the US from Hungary in 1902. My dad was born in North Dakota in 1913. I am a boomer. All my siblings are too. One of them went to Viet Nam.
I remember watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and Dan Rather covered the conflict. I, silly six-year-old girl that I was, eagerly scanned the images just behind Mr. Rather, thinking I might see my brother. Instead, he irregularly sent letters and pictures, and eventually, he returned to the States after serving his country (and enduring unspeakable atrocities).
Years later, safe in an American classroom, I came across a poet whose stunning lines and images about the Viet Nam War invited me to learn about that dark time in my brother’s life, and our nation’s history. In Dien Cai Dau, I found “Facing It,” a poem that features the Viet Nam War Memorial. I cry every time I read it. And the first time I walked the wall (where my brother’s name is NOT etched), my tears fell for my brother, who, though he survived, still fights demons. I cried for the lives lost, the hardships endured, and the sorrow that marks the soldier’s way. Here, then, is “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.
Thank a soldier. Soon.