Facing It

by James Willie Brown

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

"Facing It" is a brief enough poem that in answering this question we could almost select the entire work as a single quote. Yet there are two pivotal points we can choose as expressive of the deeper reality lying beneath the deceptively simple and straightforward message of the author.

Six lines into the poem we have the following:

My clouded reflection eyes me

Like a bird of prey . . .

My interpretation is that the speaker feels his identity as something that has become ambiguous, partially lost in the vastness of the experience of war that this monument is meant to represent. His description is reminiscent of the scene in the film version of Born on the Fourth of July when Ron Kovic, having returned home in a wheelchair, looks at the photo of himself as a wrestler in high school. His face as it is now is reflected in the glass and superimposed upon his youthful former self. In "Facing It," the speaker sees his present image in the black granite wall, while the wall simultaneously represents his past, and that of all the other veterans. Yet the most striking image is that of the bird of prey. What it implies is the continued trauma of the veteran. The war never really ends, and apart from PTSD and the sense of injury to the spirit that lingers, there is, as well, survivor guilt. It's implied not only in these lines, but in the speaker's half expecting, as he puts it, to find his own name among the 58,000 plus names on the monument. It is as if he wishes he were one of the dead himself.

The second pivotal moment is at the close:

In the black mirror

a woman's trying to erase names:

No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

The speaker's observation, in my view, is that of the disconnect that has existed, and continues to exist, between the home front and the war. A gesture that seems at first to have the deepest symbolism—that of wiping away the deaths that occurred—turns out to be nothing, a meaningless and trivial action. It is not so much that this particular woman seen by the speaker is indifferent to the suffering and deaths of the war, though we have no way of knowing what she feels. But she is emblematic of the impression veterans have had of the public as a whole. It's possible that in any war, those citizens not directly involved are remote from the conflict, immune to it somehow. But in the case of Vietnam, most people recognize that this disconnect was even more pronounced than in other wars.

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