Sunday, April 26, 2009

A poem I like

We Never Know
by Yusef Komunyakaa

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
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.

What works in this poem is the dual aspect of feeling that you're the one witnessing something powerful and brutal, and at the same time having your senses dissociated; a soldier who'd just caught several rounds in a fire fight is said to "danced with tall grass" , and then collapses to the ground, dead. Violence is associated with an unexpected bit of grace, the tearing of the bullets through his body making him seem to dance. But there is more; in the jungle , where dead matter quickly decomposes and is returned to the earth from which it originated, the dead soldier is surrounded by "a blue halo of flies (that) had already claimed him". In the jungle foliage their is transcendence symbolized by the lowliest of earth's eternal pests, and the narrator, who'd witnessed the death, takes a photograph from the dead man's hand and insists obliquely

There's no other way
to say this: I fell in love.

There is no back story here, no filling in what is happening between the gasps of this breathless accounting; is the fallen soldier friend or foe, what is the photograph of , with whom or what has the narrator fallen in love with. It's the rush of contradicting reactions of someone caught bluntly of a turmoil that rages around him. My preference is to think that the narrator had fallen in love, in an epiphany, with life itself, and had a revelation that each life is important. We do know, though, that this someone who has a tendency to look for to the lyric turnaround in the ugliest and most brutal subjects he chooses to describe. He turns the over to face the sky, to heaven, so that

so he wouldn't be
kissing the ground.

I like this poem because it denies the reader the d information that would make this narrative whole, immediately comprehensible, and I like as well that parse and scrutinizw as we might, it remains a cryptic, potent response to violent death. Like the senseless act it describes, it's task is to make you feel the loss , the diminishing of the race for a death , and for the sudden feeling that one appreciates the aches and pains and infernal discomforts they have the privilege to still suffer.


  1. Sounds like Yusef is going a few rounds with Gaseous Clay...


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