A Poem by Yusef Komunyakaa for this Day of Remembrance

Guard Tower, Manzanar
Guard Tower, Manzanar. Photograph © Jane Alynn.

Thinking of all our Veterans today.

I offer a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa, from his 1988 collection, Dien Cai Dau, which focused on his experiences in Vietnam. Dien cai dau is Vietnamese for “crazy in the head,” a phrase that was said to be used by the locals to refer to American soldiers fighting in their country.

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.

Yusef Komunyakaa

From Dien Cai Dau, Wesleyan University Press, 1988.

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