“Facing It” has been widely anthologized in textbooks, in part because it deals so powerfully with the Vietnam War. The poem provides few answers to the complex questions the war has raised in the United States, but it approaches the subject in ways that can help heal the multiple scars the war has left.
The poem describes a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., by an African American veteran who plainly saw action in the war, but its lines hardly provide the kind of psychological closure readers might expect from such a visit. The first-person narrator sees his “black face” fading, “hiding inside the black granite” of the Memorial, and a series of crucial oppositions is established at the opening which will work throughout the poem: outside/inside the wall, now/then, reality/illusion, life/death. This first visit to the Memorial is clearly an emotional experience for the narrator, and he has promised himself he will not cry; however, and in another binary opposition, he is “flesh,” he reminds himself, not “stone.” Everything is distorted in the surface of the black granite: his own reflection “eyes [him]/ like a bird of prey,” like the opposition of night to morning. When he looks away, he is freed (“the stone lets me go”), but when he looks at his reflection, “I’m inside/ the Vietnam Veterans Memorial/ again, depending on the light/ to make a difference.” This last line suggests that the visit is a little less fearful in the day, perhaps, for the “light” reminds him...
(The entire section is 630 words.)