Yusef Komunyakaa published "Facing It" in his 1988 collection Dien Cai Dau. Komunyakaa was inspired to write the poem following a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial some 14 years after his time as a soldier in the Vietnam War. The poem deals with the speaker's struggle to confront traumatic wartime memories while looking at his reflection in the memorial's shiny surface and staring at the names of fallen soldiers. Couched within this is a meditation on race, as the speaker (who is Black) feels as if his face blends into the memorial's dark granite—a metaphor for American society's unwillingness to fully acknowledge the sacrifice Black soldiers made for their country at a time when the U.S. still deprived them of so many fundamental rights.
My black face ...
... stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection ...
... slanted against morning.
I turn ...
... make a difference.
I go down ...
... trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on ...
... in the sky.
A white vet's ...
... inside the stone.
In the black ...
... a boy's hair.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial — Learn more about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Komunyakaa on Violence and Racism — Listen to Yusef Komunyakaa speak about the valorization of violence alongside the role racism plays on the U.S. national psyche.
The Vietnam War — A wealth of information about the Vietnam War in an accessible, well-organized format.
Yusef Komunyakaa Reads "Facing It" — Listen to the author read "Facing It" aloud.
Komunyakaa's Biography — For more information about Yusef Komunyakaa, take a look at this overview of his life and work.
1My black face fades,
2hiding inside the black granite.
3I said I wouldn't
4dammit: No tears.
5I'm stone. I'm flesh.
6My clouded reflection eyes me
7like a bird of prey, the profile of night
8slanted against morning. I turn
9this way—the stone lets me go.
10I turn that way—I'm inside
11the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
12again, depending on the light
13to make a difference.
14I go down the 58,022 names,
15half-expecting to find
16my own in letters like smoke.
17I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
18I see the booby trap's white flash.
19Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
20but when she walks away
21the names stay on the wall.
22Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
23wings cutting across my stare.
24The sky. A plane in the sky.
25A white vet's image floats
26closer to me, then his pale eyes
27look through mine. I'm a window.
28He's lost his right arm
29inside the stone. In the black mirror
30a woman’s trying to erase names:
31No, she's brushing a boy's hair.