What Is the Theme of the Poem “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa?

“Facing it” by Yusef Komunyakaa deals with the themes of memory, war and survival. This poem, one of Komunyakaa’s most famous, depicts a veteran’s encounter with the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Despite his resistance, the speaker becomes emotional at the stone wall, which is polished to a mirror. He sees himself in the wall, an image that depicts his own participation in the war. However, he can turn and “the stone lets me go” as he shifts the angle of light. His mind, though, seems stuck in the war: a bird flies by, and he interprets it as, perhaps, a plane in Vietnam. At the poem’s end, he sees a woman “trying to erase names,” but this is a misinterpretation based on his own feelings. In fact, she is tenderly touching her son’s head. His encounter with the wall embodies grief, guilt and persistent memory.