if I had to give up the heavenly taste of Guinness dark, I couldn’t live another goddamn day. Darling, you can chisel that into my headstone.”
We Never Know
By Yusef Komunyakaa
He danced with tall grass for a moment, like he was swaying with a woman. Our gun barrelsHe glowed white-hot. When I got to him, a blue halo of flies had already claimed him. I pulled the crumbled photograph from his fingers. There’s no other way to say this: I fell in love. The morning cleared again, except for a distant mortar & somewhere choppers taking off. I slid the wallet into his pocket & turned him over, so he wouldn’t be kissing the ground.
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. 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. 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.
“Through the years I have seen myself as a peaceful person, but the awareness of the anger is part of that process.”
by Yusef Komunyakaa
In a country of splendor & high Ritual, in a fat land of zeros, Sits a man with string & bone For stylus, hunched over his easel,
Captured by perfection. But also afflictions live behind Electric fences, among hedges & a whirlwind of roses, down
To where he sits beside a gully Pooling desires. He squints Till the mechanical horizon is one Shadowplay against bruised sky,
Till the smoky perfume limps Into undergrowth. He balls up Another sheet in unblessed fingers, always Ready to draw the thing that is all mouth.
Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Louisiana. He served in the Vietnam war, a combat war correspondent for the Army writing for the Southern Cross. He returned and received a BA from the University of Colorado Springs, an MA from Colorado State University, and an MFA from the University of California-Irvine. His poetry is heavily influenced by his southern experiences, his war time service, his involvement with the civil rights movement and jazz. In short, its well rounded and interesting. Komunyakaa has taught at many prestigious institutions and was the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999-2005. He has received numerous awards including the Wallace Stevens award in 2011.
In reading a mixture of his poems, there is a directness and underlying tension that mixes well with his careful construction and word choices. There is an autobiographical quality to most of his poems that creates an honesty in his craft that resonated with me. In interviews, he speaks about his approach to poetry like a carpenter, in which each line is built carefully to support the next beam in the frame of the structure of the poem.
I am somewhat tired of the need to feel inspired by poetry during this long drawn out cold winter and never ending pandemic and now, more warfare in the headlines. I am sure I will come back to syrupy sweetness again, but at this moment, I am far more attracted to the directness and sometimes violence of Komunyakaa’s world, than the puffery of so many poets that transfers little mental nutrition. Not that an occasional dose of inspiration isn’t needed, but I am preferring the company of poets who speak from an experience about a world in which the only thing we can do is to keep trying.
What are you wanting from the poetry you read these days? Are you asking too much of it or even reading with the right intentions, forcing poems into places they were never intended? Of course that’s impossible, poetry can be whatever you want it to be. What I am wrestling with is what words are bringing me the most nourishment these days, or leaving me the most famished? How do I approach the meme-ish world of nothing-burger land of so much of what I see on shelves of Barnes and Noble? Does it satisfy you?
By Yusef Komunyakaa
Beauty, I’ve seen you pressed hard against the windowpane. But the ugliness was unsolved in the heart & mouth. I’ve seen the quick-draw artist crouch among the chrysanthemums. Do I need to say more?
Everything isn’t ha-ha in this valley. The striptease on stage at the Blue Movie is your sweet little Sara Lee. An argument of eyes cut through the metaphor, & I hear someone crying among crystal trees & confetti.
The sack of bones in the magnolia, What’s more true than that? Before you can see her long pretty legs, look into her unlit eyes. A song of B-flat breath staggers on death row. Real men, voices that limp behind the one-way glass wall. I’ve seen the legless beggar chopped down to his four wheels.