Sunday, November 1, 2009

Poem of the Week: "We Never Know," by Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa is probably the first poet I really remember making me pause and think. I had always breezed through poetry in my teen years, not paying any attention to them. Then, in my first year of college, I was introduced to Yusef Komunyakaa, and suddenly I could no longer toss poems away as useless. His book Dien Cai Dau, about his experiences in the Vietnam War, is full of tragedy and meaning and loss. It's a great introduction to poetry in that it concentrates on a single topic but has surprising ruminations and gorgeous lines. It's a fantastic book that I'd recommend to anyone. This poem, one of the book's shortest, is also one of it's most powerful. "We Never Know" is the poem that made me realize that even the slightest of poetry could contain the same emotional capacity as a 400-page novel. The awesome thing about poetry is that it cares as much for what goes unsaid as it does it what's written. This poem is the perfect example of that power of suggestion.

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 crumpled 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.

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