Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Two Poetic Memorials: "Facing It" by Yusef Komunyakaa and "At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border" by William Stafford

Today, I'll be on AROUND NOON with Dee Perry, (WCPN, 90.3 Cleveland), to read and talk a bit about Come Together: Imagine Peace and read a couple poems for Memorial Day. These are the poems I'll read, two poems that summon "monuments" and turn them into memorials.

In Yusef Komunyakaa's "Facing It," he faces the Vietnam Veteran Memorial wall and his own past, all that's buried within. In William Stafford's "At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border," he creates a monument that exists only insofar no one knows about it--that memorial to a peace which never makes it into the history books, so bathed in blood.

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.


"At The Un-National Monument Along The Canadian Border" by William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed-or were killed-on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

No comments: