“Facing It”—A Poem by Yusef Komunyakaa in Honor of American Veterans

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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”

  1. “Better Dead than Red,” we told them. Or, in other words:

    Better Maimed than Marxist
    (an experiment in so-called “free verse”)

    At our U.S. Navy advanced tactical support base,
    on the banks of a muddy brown river,
    not far from the southernmost tip of South Vietnam,
    I injured my right middle finger
    in a pickup volleyball game one Sunday afternoon.

    Having no X-ray equipment at our little infirmary,
    I had to take a helicopter ride north
    to a larger Army base possessing
    better medical equipment and facilities
    to see if I had broken any bones in my hand.

    Walking down a hospital corridor, I passed
    a room full of Vietnamese patients
    who had no arms or legs.
    I experienced a disorienting sense of scale compression,
    unexpectedly witness to already small lives made minuscule in a moment,

    like seeing living dollar bills cut down to the size of postage stamps,
    or sentient silver quarters suddenly shrunk to copper pennies.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2012

  2. And look what we’ve got coming to us on Memorial Day three years from now:

    An Ersatz Commander in Knickers

    Before a mirror now she stands
    Saluting with her two right hands
    “Commanding” like some jaded Joan of Arc
    A warfare welfare mother slick
    Another monkey on a stick
    She gladly held the match that lit the spark

    She clearly failed to look and see
    The dwarf dyslexic chimpanzee
    Who made baboons of her and Bubba Bill
    Attacking those upon the left
    Who saw through Dubya’s lack of heft
    She now sounds less a leader than a shill

    In thrall to medals on the chest
    Not nearly brightest nor the best
    She signed off on a jingoistic jaunt
    No judgment did she bring to bear
    Emitting only heated air
    Her bad decisions have returned to haunt

    And now with knickers in a bunch
    She lives to rue the fateful hunch
    She followed on her first blind date with war
    It seemed like such a little thing:
    A rapt submission to a fling
    That’s left her used again like Dubya’s whore

    Yet unrepentant at the ease
    With which war caused her brain to freeze
    Our You-Know-Her wants us to make her queen
    She’s got this urge to have a go,
    She’d like us all to truly know,
    In spite of all that we have heard and seen

    She now says she would like to fight
    And not just pander to the right
    She says the middle finger them she’ll give
    But calculating cons and pros
    She tallies up the “yea”s and “no”s
    And then displays a pinky as her shiv

    It simply doesn’t seem to work
    This “centrist” mush served by a jerk
    Who likes the times that buy men’s souls just fine
    For having sold her own soul cheap
    She now can utter not a peep
    When voters choose someone more genuine

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2007

    The Democratic Party can’t come up with anyone better than this. They really can’t. And most terrifying of all, they don’t have to.

  3. Let us all honor our veterans and those that gave all this Memorial Day:


    (A Soldier Died Today)

    by A. Lawrence Vaincourt

    He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,

    And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.

    Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,

    In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

    And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,

    All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.

    But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,

    And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

    He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,

    For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.

    Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,

    And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.

    When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,

    While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.

    Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,

    But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

    Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land

    A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?

    Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,

    Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

    A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives

    Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.

    While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,

    Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

    It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,

    That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know

    It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,

    Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

    Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,

    Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?

    Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend

    His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

    He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,

    But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.

    For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part

    Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

    If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,

    Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.

    Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,

    Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

    © 1987 A. Lawrence Vaincourt

  4. Or, as we watch yet another U.S. President in his custom-tailored bomber jacket sneak into and out of yet another country whose devasted citizens would tear him to shreds if they could for “liberating” them (from life):

    Changing Commanders in Brief

    The last guy-in-charge said, “Go shopping.”
    This war, he said, wouldn’t last long;
    Our victims, he swore, would repay us
    For plundering them for a song.

    In six months, at most, we’d be winners;
    The enemy vanquished and fled;
    And then, with our mission accomplished,
    We’d leave them to count up their dead.

    Our generals trained for the last war,
    Their learning-curve zero or less.
    In six years they’ll figure out something;
    Just what, will be anyone’s guess.

    They had them a “surge” in their payments
    To “enemies” placed on the dole
    So they wouldn’t shoot us so often
    Because of their land that we stole.

    The new guy took over, saluting,
    A race that had already run
    Its course, ‘cause the bungler before him
    Had exploited all of the fun.

    The new guy got rolled up like sushi.
    He blew his chance early to leave.
    More “surging” has just raised the death count.
    What next does he have up his sleeve?

    It sounded so good while campaigning:
    One little “good” war for one bad;
    Except that the Afghans hate bombings
    As much as Vietnamese had.

    Our generals, though, won’t admit it:
    They’ve taken eight years to do what?
    Yet somehow they think we’ll applaud them
    For not knowing doodley-squat.

    They say they need more stuff and faster
    Yet won’t explain what they would do
    Except to extend their disaster
    By breeding more pooches to screw.

    In common-sense language, the answer
    Replies to their “more, more, more” rant:
    “You would have, of course, if you could have;
    You didn’t, therefore, so you can’t.”

    The new guy Obama, like Dubya,
    Thinks playing Commander-in-Brief
    Means mission-creep “more” and saluting
    The Pentagram treasury thief.

    “A trillion a year?” Oh, who’s counting?
    “And all for what?” Don’t be a bore.
    “And who will pay?” No one, we promise.
    It’s what we call slush-funded “war.”

    Obama won’t ask the right question,
    To wit: “What on earth have we ‘won’?”
    Like Pharaoh, he thinks he can dictate:
    “So let it be written, then done.”

    He cried: “Yes, we can!” while campaigning,
    This slogan he sold and we bought.
    In office, however, he’s changed things:
    Himself. Now he says, “We cannot.”

    Our Wealth Care rules out Single Payer
    Our troops must remain on patrol.
    The votes don’t exist in the Congress
    That Democrats cannot control.

    We gave him majorities, plenty,
    Yet these he seems ready to blow.
    Now Wealth Care and Quagmire have named him:
    Commander of Old Status Quo.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2009

  5. Speaking of poetry by veterans on Memorial Day:

    Dead Metaphors

    We serve as a symbol to shield those who screw us
    The clueless, crass cretins who crap on our creed
    We perform the foul deeds they can only do through us
    Then lay ourselves down in the dark while we bleed

    Through cheap Sunday slogans they sought to imbue us
    With lust for limp legacy laughably lean
    Yet the Pyrrhic parade only served to undo us
    We die now for duty, not “honor” obscene

    We carried out plans that the lunatics drew us
    Their oil-spotted, fly paper, domino dream
    Then we fought for the leftover bones that they threw us
    While carpetbag contractors cleaned up the cream

    We stood at attention so they could review us
    Like bugs on display in a cage made of glass
    We hurried, then waited, so they could subdue us
    Yet somewhere inside something said: “kiss my ass.”

    We did the George Custer scene Rumsfeld gave to us
    We took ourselves targets to arrows and bows
    While the brass punched their tickets, the Indians slew us
    A “strategy” ranking with History’s lows

    When veterans balked they contrived to pooh-pooh us
    With sneers at our “syndrome” of Vietnam sick
    When that didn’t work they set out to voodoo us
    With sewer boat slanderers paid to be slick

    The wad-shooting gambler comes once more to woo us
    His PR team planning precise photo ops
    For to sell his used war he’ll have need to construe us
    As witless weak wallpaper campaign-ad props

    The nuts and the dolts in their suits really blew us
    They made our life’s meaning a dead metaphor
    Still, no matter how Furies and Fate may pursue us
    The Fig Leaf Contingent has been here before

    The years pass in darkness and graveyards accrue us
    As early returns on investments gone wrong
    So the next time “supporters” of troops ballyhoo us
    Remember to vomit in tune to this song.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005

  6. In November of 1970, I found myself standing in ranks one day at an awards ceremony while the Navy captain who commanded our little river-support base decorated a reserve SEAL lieutenant for ostensible action against the enemy — or against some local Vietnamese, at any rate. I listened with growing amazement as the captain read out the particulars of a recent engagement in which the SEAL lieutenant led his squad of enlisted men in chasing a local Vietnamese man into a little grass “hootch” (or dwelling) whereupon the Vietnamese man pulled the pin on a hand grenade, dropped it onto the floor and dove out a window, leaving the whole squad of Navy SEALs standing around together in this hut with a lethal little bomb rolling around between their feet. Fortunately for them, the grenade didn’t go off. The SEAL lieutenant tried to make a joke out of things, cheerfully saying: “attendance will be up in church on Sunday.” At any rate, the captain pinned a medal on the chest of the SEAL lieutenant, uttering words I will never forget:

    “You just keep up the aggression and I’ll keep the medals flowing.”

    I couldn’t believe my ears. Instead of getting his ass reamed out for recklessly endangering his own life and the lives of the men he led, the SEAL lieutenant got a little trinket to wear and the promise of more if he only kept on acting like a bloody fool. Which he predictably did. Early in January of 1971, the SEAL lieutenant led his squad up a canal in a canoe straight into an ambush, getting himself killed and several of his men wounded. For years I refused to visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., because I didn’t want to face the fact that more than a few names on that wall no doubt represented reckless, foolhardy men who got themselves and others killed or maimed just so that they could “punch their tickets” and earn some medals for “combat.” Nonetheless, I did go to visit the Wall a few years back, but it just made me angry at the monumental waste and stupidity of not just that misbegotten debacle, but the several others that continue in their bloody courses today.

    The United States could use a real war memorial all right: a monument to Amnesia. But until someone designs and builds it, the Vietnam War Memorial will have to do. For the present and foreseeable future, however, the military medals will just keep flowing as a promised reward for mindless aggression. Face that, if you can, America.

  7. Anyone who has any credibility doesn’t spout statistics without linking. Now how about showing some respect on a Memorial Day thread? Too much to ask?

  8. The military are always respectful for their Commander and Chief. It’s called honor. A concept almost extinct in our culture. The last poll done by Gallup was Memorial Day 3 years ago[2011]. He had an abysmal 37% approval rating. Military went w/ Romney 2-1 in 2012. I surmise w/ this VA sin a poll now would put Obama ~30% approval w/ the military.

  9. And how the troops cheered today at Bagrahm when they saw the President, and how the troops cheered when he said that it would be their last tour in Afghanistan, and how the troops cheered when he said the America’s presence there is at an end. Anyone who claims the military doesnt’t like this President doesn’t know what they are talking about.

  10. Great video, Frank. Thanks. I see our prez made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today. His political people told him he better do something on Memorial Day besides the usual laying of the wreath in Arlington. That VA Hospital sin will take more than the usual mea culpa. He should have gone to Phoenix and spoken w/ the vets who died because of govt. neglect and lies.

  11. Beautiful and touching Elaine. One day my daughter will be a veteran.

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