Friday, May 25, 2007

POETRY FRIDAY: A Poem for Memorial Day

In 2001, I was one of fifty participants in the first annual Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers. The institute was a collaboration between Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project and the Boston University School of Education. During our five days at Boston University, we teachers discussed poems with Robert Pinsky and other well-known adult poets, including Mark Doty, Rosanna Warren, David Ferry, and Louise Gluck; viewed some of the videos produced by the Favorite Poem Project; and worked together in smaller groups to develop poetry activities and lesson plans for teachers to use in school and the community.

One of the poetry videos that touched at my heart was of Michael Lythgoe, a veteran of the Vietnam War, reciting Yusef Komunyakaa’s Facing It, a poem about a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C.

I lost a good and kind friend in that war. Several years ago, my husband and I took our daughter down to visit the memorial. It was a truly emotional experience for me when I found my friend’s name carved into the face of that black granite wall. It was as if three decades of my life had never happened and I was back in the late 1960s—a time when many young men lived in fear of being drafted and sent to fight in an unpopular war in a country many of us knew little about.

by Yusef Komunyakaa

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.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

You can view the video here.

Click here to read a brief biography of Yusef Komunyakaa and for links to some of his other poems at the website of the Poetry Foundation.

Click here to read a more extensive biography of Komunyakaa at the website of the Academy of American Poets.

For a tasteful and touching picture book to read to elementary age students about a father and son visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I suggest the following book:

Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Ronald Himler
Clarion, 1990

May we all remember the true meaning of Memorial Day.


Andromeda Jazmon said...

Beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing it this weekend.

Vivian Mahoney said...

This is so beautiful Elaine. What a wonderful tribute. Thank you.