I know that I post this just about every Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, but everything I try to write about either holiday sounds trite and false. For a days like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, you really need to hear from a voice of experience; someone who actually knows what it feels like to live in a constant state of fear for their life, and to watch in terror as friends die for a cause greater than themselves.
Unfortunately for you, I am not that man.
The poem below is by Yusef Komunyakaa. He published it in 1988, and while the subject matter of the poem deals with the feelings of a Vietnam veteran many of our current service men and women will no doubt experience similar emotions later in life…peace be with them.
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 boys’ hair.