Last week, my 12th grade students read & discussed “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa in which the speaker visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial & attempts to stare down a memory whose stare is just as determined: “I’m stone. I’m flesh. / My clouded reflection eyes me / like a bird of prey, the profile of night / slanted against morning.” Something about the empathy my students brought to bear on this poem as well as the poem’s clarity struck me. I taped a copy of the poem inside my notebook. I read the poem to myself everyday that week.
Then, I asked my students to write poems that mimicked Komunyakaa’s structure in order to examine their own memories. I quoted Faulkner’s aphorism that “the past isn’t even past” and let them get to work. As the students read their work yesterday in class, something struck me again – or perhaps bludgeoned me. I felt the same way when reading Beloved by Toni Morrison for the first time: the past as an active, breathing presence, the past as a sinewed body.
I’m not sure what I’m looking for in my reflection – “My black face fades, / hiding inside the black granite.” – except perhaps for my reflection to look back at me.