MICHAEL LYTHGOE, Educational Foundation Director:
I first read Josef Komenaka's poem "Safety Net" in "Best American Poems." For me as a veteran, it's a poem that pays tribute to all the veterans. And I was in Vietnam in 1965 for six months with a tactical fighter unit, F.-100 pilots. I had not been able to face the wall, and that poem helped me, I think, unlock my emotions, and it captures I think the feelings of a lot of us. But it also interprets the monument, the memorial for others, to help us see the integration I think, of our atmosphere and our memories as well as that sea of names.
"Facing It" by Josef Komunyakaa.
"My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
damn it, 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 vest 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 is trying to erase names:
No. She is brushing a boy's hair.