I cry easily: at movies– while listening to records– I even cry occasionally while reading, though teary eyes make the reading tougher. And perhaps not surprisingly, I cry at places too: Ground Zero, Gettysburg, Nuremberg, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

I’m not sure if all this crying makes me an emotional tourist or just particularly open to a moment’s empathy; but either way, it’s easy. What I mean by easy is– Ground Zero at 9am, weep a bit, get to midtown for lunch. NAZI rally grounds in the afternoon, a short spell of awe, disgust, and terror, then a nice dinner in quant medieval Nuremberg at night. It doesn’t linger, except to pepper conversations.

That’s not to say I think sadness has to LAST in order to be valid, but mine is a surface sadness (at least in these cases). It’s not that kind of deep, inexpressible sadness which pulls like a magnet on the heart throughout a lifetime.

“Facing It” by poet 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.
The last time I was at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I remember staring down that long black wall. Jesus– all the names! Endless names! Then the tears came; around me, men who’d actually served, searching for the names of friends. Not all of them were stone-faced and stoic, but many of them were; I remember that.
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.
In his poem “Facing It,” Yusef Komunyakaa has taken the best words he could find, and tightly wound them around the inexpressible– helping us approach, even if only by a few steps, the sadness he must feel as a returned soldier of that war, as a man whose reflection is still caught inside an obsidian register where his name thankfully cannot be found.
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.
That ending – that ending – that ending! Sometimes Yusef’s words… infinitely dense– they suck in all the light, and then choose to set it free.
Photo of Yusef Komunyakaa

Poet Yusef Komunyakaa (photo from The Poetry Foundation)


Less than 100 words about Chris Robley

Chris Robley has written 55 post in this blog.

Chris Robley is a poet and songwriter living in Portland, Maine after a decade in Portland, Oregon. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in POETRY, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers, and was the recipient of the Maine Literary Award for "short works poetry" in 2014. Robley's music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.”