Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Facing It

In my freshman English class, we've just started the section on Poetry.

One of the first assignments was to read 5 short poems and answer a series of question on two of them.

For the first, I chose

Yusef Komunyakaa, Facing It


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.

The sixth question in the assignment asked, Did you find places where you “connected” with the poem?
 In other words, tell me how this poem affected you as a reader. Could you relate to the poem, personas, or theme in anyway?

I'm not sure if responding to a poem with a poem is the correct answer, but it's what I did.

Response to Facing It
by Janin Wise

I’ve been to the Vietnam Memorial in DC.
It’s quiet.
No one talks.
No one laughs.
No one even takes pictures.

You might hear quiet weeping,
but it’s the only sound you will.
People move in slow motion.

So many names.
There are so many names.

 I don’t know anyone personally,
so even though I felt compelled to touch the wall
—it was not my right
and I kept my hands to myself.

With my eyes though,
you can tell
the names are a softer texture
than the smooth,
reflective black surface.

When you approach the wall,
everyone else disappears;
Doesn’t matter if you got there with other people.
When you face it,
you face it alone.

I stood in respectful silence,
bearing witness
to the roster
of fellow Americans
who died in that war.

I do not know them.
But we are both American.
That is enough.

They gave their lives
for the continuation
of the American way of life.
That is more than enough.

So many names.
So very many names.

You pick one out.
Just one.
You read it.

And you offer up a prayer
of thanks for that soldier
as the envoy of all the other soldiers
whose names share space on this wall.

And then you step back.
You notice your reflection.
You notice flags.
And flowers.
And pictures.
And sound returns.
And you are no longer alone.

And some,
for whom the names are not just symbols
—for whom the names belong to a face and a life
—some leave fresh flowers,
some take rubbings from a name
…and some kneel, quietly weeping.

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