Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor
Yusef Komunyakaa, the author of the poem Facing It, was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana on April 29, 1947. He “served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 as a correspondent, and as managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star.” Komunyakaa began writing poetry in 1973.
Here is a video of Komunyakaa reading his poem Facing It, which is about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Here is a video in which Michael Lythgoe reads Facing It for the Favorite Poem Project. Lythgoe is a veteran who served in Vietnam with a USAF tactical team in 1965…and again in Saigon in 1971. Lythgoe has said that he was not able to face the “Memorial Wall” in Washington, D. C. for many years. He added that Komunyakaa’s poem opened up his emotions—and that he always thinks of it when he visits the wall.
Facing It, read by Michael Lythgoe in 1999
Excerpt from Facing It
by Yusef Komunyakaa
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.
Click here to read the rest of the poem.
Yusef Komunyakaa (Academy of American Poets)
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.
40 thoughts on ““Facing It”—A Poem by Yusef Komunyakaa in Honor of American Veterans”
Elaine: Senate Republicans Kill a Bill to Expand Veterans’ Benefits. And then blame problems at the VA on Obama.
Thanks for this post. I like hearing a poet read their poems after I’ve read them to compare the cadence of my reading with their intention. There’s some powerful imagery in “Facing It”. I hope it won some kind of award
Bonus Army: US military attacks demonstrating American War Veterans
As a nation we have not treated Veterans well down through history.
Jon Stewart tells the historical piece about the time after our first war, and in 1783, when a group of soldiers took Congress hostage.
They were demanding their pensions and back pay which they had been promised, but had not been furnished to them.
Their leaders were sentenced to death.
Jon Stewart revisits our centuries-old habit of doing that by discussing several surprising historical events (Daily Show).
Senate Republicans Kill a Bill to Expand Veterans’ Benefits
By Charles P. Pierce
February 27, 2014
WASHINGTON — It’s not until you watch it happen close up that the way things do not get done in the World’s Legislative Body becomes well and truly nauseating. This afternoon, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont brought forth a carefully crafted bill to provide $21 billion in new veterans benefits over the next decade. These included medical benefits, education benefits, and job-training. It contained 26 provisions that came from the Republican members of the Veterans Affairs Committee, which Sanders chairs. It was so wide-ranging that it contained a provision that would eliminate a rule prohibiting the Veterans Administration from covering in vitro fertilization on behalf of veterans whose wounds prevent them from conceiving a child in the usual manner. There was a time, and not so long ago, when both parties would fall all over themselves to help America’s veterans. How many platitudes are we going to hear on the stump between now and November about America’s Heroes and Our Wounded Warriors? This bill was a put up or shut up moment.
Only two Republicans were willing to vote with Sanders, and the bill died a procedural death. The final straw was an attempt by Republican legislators to hang an amendment onto the bill calling for increased sanctions on Iran. There was also some cheap bullshit thrown around about the budget, most notably by Senator Jefferson Davis Beauregard Sessions of Alabama. There also was, spectacularly, some debate time taken up by, believe it or not, Benghazi, Benghazi!, BENGHAZI!
Afterwards, Sanders said he intended to keep pushing, but he also sounded remarkably fed up with the process.
“Don’t tell me that enabling a family to have a child is a political issue,” he said. “When you have a 70-year-old woman taking care of her husband who had both legs blown off in Vietnam, and she’s taking care of him 24 hours a day, don’t tell me that’s a political issue. I find it incredible that we had several Democrats come down to speak but very few Republicans, and then, when they did, I heard Iran sanctions and I heard Benghazi. Tell me what Benghazi or Iran sanctions have to do with caring for our veterans.”
And thus it is that the sausage doesn’t get itself made.
“We are divided, in America, into two classes: The Tories on one side, a class of citizens who were raised to believe that the whole of this country was created for their sole benefit, and on the other side, the other 99 per cent of us, the soldier class, the class from which all of you soldiers came. That class hasn’t any privileges except to die when the Tories tell them. Every war that we have ever had was gotten, up by that class. They do all the beating of the drums. Away the rest of us go. When we leave, you know what happens. We march down the street with all the Sears-Roebuck soldiers standing on the sidewalk, all the dollar-a-year men with spurs, all the patriots who call themselves patriots, square-legged women in uniforms making Liberty Loan speeches. They promise you. You go down the street and they ring all the church bells. Promise you the sun, the moon, the stars and the earth,–anything to save them. Off you go. Then the looting commences while you are doing the fighting. This last war made over 6,000 millionaires. Today those fellows won’t help pay the bill.” – General Smedley Butler, Foreign Service Magazine, Dec. 1933
“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship … voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” – General Hermann Goering, Gilbert, G., 1995. Nuremberg Diary. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 278–279. ISBN 0306806614
Those pipes give me goose bumps.
Thanks Elaine. We cannot give enough thanks to those that served over the years.
I appreciate the comments by Michael Murry above.
My view is that much of our present day war syndrome was hatched by the McCarthyites who claimed that the Democrats were “soft on Communism”. Democrats like Truman and LBJ, in turn, tried to prove the wrong. The threat to politicians in office today is the same. We have guys like McCain who should know better (but his daddy was an Admiral) who want us to be at war in Syria and Libya and Nigeria. Now, we cannot be soft on Saudi box cutter handlers who get on planes. Obama inherited this war but we are thrashing around there too long.
Annie & Elaine,
You are welcome. It is indeed a haunting slow air.
Thanks! I love bagpipes.
I think someone is getting obsessive about using the word “flop.” It must be his Word of the Week.
Spinelli speaks of a blood bath on a Memorial day thread, the disrespect this amazing.
Excerpt from the HuffPo article:
The Veterans of Foreign Wars letter was by no means the only forceful reply. Paralyzed Veterans of America wrote Burr on Saturday telling him that he “should be ashamed” of himself. His letter, they added, “clearly displays why the vast majority of the American public puts no faith in their elected officials to do what is right for this country.”
It’s sad that you find letters written by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Paralyzed Veterans of American to be “intramural gossipy crap.” Maybe you should check out that HuffPo article. You’ll be able to read the actual letters written by those two veterans groups.
Elaine, Dream on. This VA stuff can’t be spun by little intramural gossipy crap. But, keep on linking to HuffPo if it makes you feel better. “Whatever gets you through the might, it’s alright, alright.” The prez made a desperate move today. Everyone can smell the sweat. The house of cards is tumbling. This is a failed presidency and November will be a bloodbath. Just ask any Dem politician after a couple glasses of wine. En vino veritas.
Chuck, that is hauntingly beautiful, thank you for posting it.
Veterans Groups Rip Into Sen. Richard Burr For Questioning Their Priorities
By Sam Stein
WASHINGTON — A highly bitter war of words has broken out between veterans organizations and the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs amid the brewing controversy over health care for former servicemen and servicewomen.
Late Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) penned an “open letter to America’s Veterans” in which he took several veterans service groups to task for being insufficiently critical of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Burr accused the groups (with the exception of the American Legion) of being more invested in maintaining access to the secretary than with fixing a troubled health care system. He questioned why they haven’t called for a leadership change at the VA, and pointedly charged the groups’ leaders with not caring about the health and well-being of their members.
Burr’s letter was in response to the testimony that Shinseki and seven of these veteran service organizations (VSO) had given before his committee the week prior, concerning revelations and allegations of long wait times, bureaucratic malfeasance and insufficient care at the VA.
Not surprisingly, leaders at the veterans groups Burr named were not pleased with the letter.
In their own letter, Veterans of Foreign Wars responded to Burr by calling his letter a “monumental cheap-shot” and labeling it “one of the most dishonorable and grossly inappropriate acts that we’ve witnessed in more than forty years of involvement with the veteran community.” If the tone wasn’t clear, the group added that Burr’s conduct and allegations were “ugly and mean-spirited in every sense of the words and profoundly wrong, both logically and morally,” in addition to breaching “the standards of the United States Senate.”
My friend piped “Cumha Dhomhnuill Mhic Choinnich (His Father’s Lament for Donald MacKenzie) for my grandson. This lament seems fitting for this day of remembering. It was composed in 1863 by a Scottish pipe major for his own son.
A SHORT STORY [RESPECT THE MILITARY SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN]
The Box Lunches
I put my carry-on in the luggage compartment and sat down in my assigned seat. It was going to be a long flight. ‘I’m glad I have a good book to read. Perhaps I will get a short nap,’ I thought.
Just before take-off, a line of soldiers came down the aisle and filled all the vacant seats, totally surrounding me. I decided to start a conversation.
‘Where are you headed?’ I asked the soldier seated nearest to me. ‘Petawawa. We’ll be there for two weeks for special training, and then we’re being deployed to Afghanistan
After flying for about an hour, an announcement was made that box lunches were available for five dollars. It would be several hours before we reached the east, and I quickly decided a lunch would help pass the time…
As I reached for my wallet, I overheard a soldier ask his buddy if he planned to buy lunch. ‘No, that seems like a lot of money for just a sack lunch. Probably wouldn’t be worth five bucks. I’ll wait till we get to base.’ His friend agreed.
I looked around at the other soldiers. None were buying lunch. I walked to the back of the plane and handed the flight attendant a fifty dollar bill. ‘Take a lunch to all those soldiers.’ She grabbed my arms and squeezed tightly. Her eyes w et with tears, she thanked me. ‘My son was a soldier in Iraq; it’s almost like you are doing it for him.’
Picking up ten boxes, she headed up the aisle to where the soldiers were seated. She stopped at my seat and asked, ‘Which do you like best – beef or chicken?’
‘Chicken,’ I replied, wondering why she asked. She turned and went to the front of plane, returning a minute later with a dinner plate from first class. ‘This is your thanks.’
After we finished eating, I went again to the back of the plane, heading for the rest room. A man stopped me. ‘I saw what you did. I want to be part of it. Here, take this.’ He handed me twenty-five dollars.
Soon after I returned to my seat, I saw the Flight Captain coming down the aisle, looking at the aisle numbers as he walked, I hoped he was not looking for me, but noticed he was looking at the numbers only on my side of the plane. When he got to my row he stopped, smiled, held out his hand and said, ‘I want to shake your hand.’ Quickly unfastening my seatbelt I stood and took the Captain’s hand. With a booming voice he said, ‘I was a soldier and I was a military pilot. Once, someone bought me a lunch. It was an act of kindness I never forgot.’ I was embarrassed when applause was heard from all of the passengers.
Later I walked to the front of the plane so I could stretch my legs. A man who was seated about six rows in front of me reached out his hand, wanting to shake mine. He left another twenty-five dollars in my palm
When we landed I gathered my belongings and started to deplane. Waiting just inside the airplane door was a man who stopped me, put something in my shirt pocket, turned, and walked away without saying a word. Another twenty-five dollars!
Upon entering the terminal, I saw the soldiers gathering for their trip to the base. I walked over to them and handed them seventy-five dollars. ‘It will take you some time to reach the base. It will be about time for a sandwich. God Bless You.’
Ten young men left that flight feeling the love and respect of their fellow travelers.
As I walked briskly to my car, I whispered a prayer for their safe return. These soldiers were giving their all for our country. I could only give them a couple of meals. It seemed so little…
A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’
That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.’
May God give you the strength and courage to pass this along to everyone on your email buddy list….
I JUST DID
There is nothing attached. Just send this to people in your address book. Do not let it stop with you. Of all the gifts you could give a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, & others deployed in harm’s way, prayer is the very best one.
As a tribute to my brother who served as a Corpsman in Vietnam, my daughter followed in his footsteps.
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