There are many poems I could put here, that both honor the veterans and the sacrifices they made and question the motives of war. I want to put here a poem I’ve heard read a few times, written by an old teacher of mine (and of artichoke heart, I believe). I have a quite distinct memory of the beginning of the first gulf war. I was running to the student union, on my way to bridge club of all things. On my way in, a couple of people on their way out told me the war had started. The next day, I rode the elevator with Professor Komunyakaa up to about the 10th floor of the library where our class was held. “I can’t believe this,” he said. I knew he had been in Vietnam. I hadn’t yet heard the poem below, but I had read it. We talked for the ride up about how crazy waging war was. I was twenty-two. At the time, I thought the gulf war might turn into Vietnam. Little did I know, it would take another 15 years for that to happen.
Here is “Facing It.” You can hear it read here.
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.