Facing It

by James Willie Brown

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"Facing It" by Yusef Komunyaa is a poem about Vietnam. Yusef wrote the poem after returning home from Vietnam. It was 14 years after the war that he finally wrote the poem. The poem came to him after he visited the Vietnam Memorial in D.C.

The main theme of the poem is how Yusef finally came to terms with what he experienced during the war. He had tried to stuff things down, but when he visited the Memorial, he was finally able to write about his feelings.

Yusef was a correspondent from 1969 to 1970 and the managing editor of the military newspaper Southern Cross, which earned him a bronze star. He witnessed combat and reported about it.

My black face fades,

hiding inside the black granite

I said I wouldn't

dammit No tears.

I'm stone. I'm flesh

As you can see in the opening of the poem, as he looks at the memorial, his colored face fades into the stone of the memorial. He is also fighting the tears that are threatening to come. He wants to pretend that he is made of stone, but, in reality, he is flesh and blood.

As he continues to face the memorial, he takes in all of the 58,022 names of the people who either lost their lives or went missing during the war. He thinks he is going to find his own name on the wall. As he looks farther down, he comes to a name he knows and the lines of the past and present start to blur.

I go down the 58,022 names,

half expecting to find

my own in letter 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.

He is reliving the moment when Andrew Johnson was killed and he witnessed it. He is almost seeing these things happen within the stone of the memorial.

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.

The closing lines of the poem shows how he is trying to stay in the present, but how the past is still very much alive and won't or can't be erased.

Yusef was in the Army a spent a tour of duty in Vietnam. He was named James William Brown but changed his name back to the original in honor of his grandfather, who was a stowaway in a ship from Trinidad. The poem is all about how the past traumas of war can still affect a person long after the last gun is shot, and you can only bury these things for so long. Eventually, those memories will demand to be remembered and carried on for generations to know about.

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