In the mid-2000s, I heard Yusef Komunyakaa read his poem "Facing It" for the very first time at the University of Minnesota. Drawing on his experience as a Vietnam veteran and the time he came face to face with the Vietnam War, this poem has touched me for well over a decade, and I'm often brought to tears revisiting it. "Facing It" comes from his 1988 collection Dien Cai Dau from Wesleyan University Press. It's a wonderful book.
Discussing this poem with him, in addition to his other work significantly changed my sense of poetry and its applicability to the Southeast Asian conflicts of the 20th century, and how we heal from those traumas.
This is one of many poems that reminds me constantly of the unheard voices among our Lao, Khmu, Tai Dam, Lu, Iu Mien, Hmong, Montagnards and other veterans after 40 years in the US, and how much more we have to go to bring those stories forward. As we see the journey of our veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, I wonder where they, too, will find themselves among our future memorials and monuments, our words and our policies.
Here you can see his live reading of his poem:
But among the most moving readings I've ever seen of "Facing It" next to Komunyakaa's was that of fellow Vietnam veteran Michael Lythgoe for the Favorite Poem Project as he read it aloud in front of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial.
As his own memories, his own grieving intermingles with Yusef's poetry, I'm reminded of why we MUST write, for the sake of those for whom there would be no words, otherwise.
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