I’m glad for a day that has this poem in it. Yes, I could have found this poem on my own but I wouldn’t have, being in my own world as I am. So the benefit of going back to school, at the ripe age of 69, is to have this poem brought to me, next to others that I wouldn’t have otherwise read. My assignment: to explain what the poet wanted to achieve with his diction, syntax, and rhythm.
I did all that, the way I was supposed to, but in addition, I kept a little prize. I read a line I will keep forever: “No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”
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.
Komunyakaa, Yusef. “Facing It,” Dien Cai Dau. Wesleyan Univesity Press, 1988.