[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.