06 November 2008

Yusef Komunyakaa

[from Yusef Komunyakaa's Warhorses, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2008]


Lightning struck. It left a courtyard of totems
on their backs or kneeling in the midday dusk,

& a German bomber rose among the clouds,
headed for another grid square on a map.

When cries of the burning city reached Picasso
in Paris, a woman's wailing was in his head,

but all the king's men — all the king's horsemen
couldn't mend this mirage of toppled statuary.

He mounted a tall stepladder to reach the top
of his canvas. Black & white, shades of gray —

days of splintered shadows & angry nights
writhed at the painter's feet. All the years

of exile bowed to him, & then time's ashes
drew past & present future perfect together:

Although it was only a replica woven on a wall
at the UN, before the statesmen could speak

of war, they draped a blue cloth over the piece,
so cameras weren't distracted by the dead child

in her mother's embrace. The severed hand
grips a broken sword. The woman falling

through the floor of a burning house is still
falling. The horse screams a human voice.

The dumbstruck bull pines for the matador.
There's always a fallen warrior whispering

a stone's promise, waiting for a star,
his mouth agape.

[also from Warhorses, the start of "Autobiography of My Alter Ego"]

You see these eyes?
                             You see this tongue?
You see these ears?
                             They may detect a quiver
in the grass, an octave
                             higher or lower —
a little different, an iota,
                             but they're no different
than your eyes & ears.
                             I can't say I don't know
how Lady Liberty's
                             tilted in my favor or yours,
that I don't hear what I hear
                             & don't see what I see
in the cocksure night
                             from Jefferson & Washington
to terrorists in hoods and sheets
                             in a black man's head.
As he feels what's happening
                             you can also see & hear
what's happening to him.
                             You see these hands?
They know enough to save us.
                             I'm trying to say this: True,
I'm a cover artist's son,
                             born to read between lines,
but I also know that you know
                             a whispered shadow in the trees
is the collective mind
                             of insects, birds, & animals
witnessing what we do to each other.

Warhorses: Poems

1 comment:

  1. I saw him once in L.A. (reading with Louise Gluck, as a matter of fact.) He's quite a presence. I love his work.