War Is Permanent
“Nothing, nothing will ever be the same” is the last line in Peg Laubers poem “Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together.” And its true; nothing is the same after war. The ravages of war and conflict are permanent, indelible. This is a theme that is explored in the aforementioned Peg Lauber poem as well as in the poem “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa. It is the purpose of this paper to explore the meaning of, and thematic import of, permanence in these two plangent war poems.
“Facing It” is a poem about Vietnam. The speaker of the poem is at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. He is looking into its black reflective gabbro walls, “My black face fades, / hiding inside the black granite” (Komunyakaa). He is confronting (facing) the unbearable cost of war. And he realizes that he is at once both a part of the wall and separate from the wall, “Im stone. Im 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 — Im inside / the Vietnam Veterans Memorial / Vietnam Veterans Memorial Located in Washington D.C., the Memorial is roughly 500 feet wide, and the names of soldiers who died in Vietnam are etched on its black granite walls. For more information and photos, visit The Wall-USA. again, depending on the light / to make a difference” (Komunyakaa). This interesting duality, being both inside of something while also being outside of something, being both stone and flesh, being both dead and alive, symbolizes the protagonists internal struggle to make sense of his position as a survivor of the Vietnam Conflict. He is a Veteran, “I go down the 58,022 names, / half-expecting to find / my own in letters like smoke” (Komunyakaa) and he feels a tinge of survivors guilt. He knows that but for happenstance — depending on the “light,” a factor beyond his control — he could appear on that wall, his name could be etched in that black stone.
So, his emotional ambivalence stems from a feeling of profound sadness for those that died and a feeling of extreme fortune for not seeing his named etched those ghostly letters.
If “Facing It” expresses the emotional ambivalence a Veteran feels upon seeing the names of his fallen compatriots etched in a memorialized stone monument, then “Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together” deals with what a non-veteran feels about the costs of war. The feelings are indeed similar. They both articulate the incredible loss one feels, vividly and succinctly, but in “Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together” the reader doesnt get the sense that the narrator of the poem, the speaker, is dealing with the same internal conflict, i.e. The existential duality of being a Vet. Instead, the speaker in “Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together” has a more universally reflective voice; one that describes how others feel about the death of loved ones, i.e the weeping wives and children. Obviously, this has to do we the different modes of narration, “Facing It,” by in large, uses a first-person narration, “I touch the name Andrew JohnsonAndrew Johnson A soldier from the poets hometown of Bogalusa, Louisiana; also the name of 17th U.S. president (1865-69), who succeeded Lincoln and denied freed slaves equal protection under the law by vetoing the Civil Rights Bill and the Freedmans Bureau Bill in 1866.; / I see the booby traps white flash” whereas “Six National Guardsmen Blown Up Together” uses third person narration, “Today the six come home for good” (Lauber) and first person plural “Right across the canal out front / is the Naval bases runway approach / where well hear or even see / the big cargo plane carrying / what is left of the men coming in” to express the response that “we” as a society feel as opposed to the feelings and observations of a single Vet.
Although the modes of narration differ, there are similarities in the language and in the imagery that is used in each poem. For example, both poems use birds to convey the discomfort that comes with war, “My.