Archive | July 20, 2014

A Break from the Bush

The South China Sea
Drives in another herd.
The volleyball’s a punching bag:
Clem’s already lost a tooth
& Johnny’s left eye is swollen shut.
Frozen airlifted steaks burn
On a wire grill, & miles away
Machine guns can be heard.
Pretending we’re somewhere else,
We play harder.
Lee Otis, the point man,
High on Buddha grass,
Buries himself up to his neck
In sand. “Can you see me now?
In this spot they gonna build
A Hilton. Invest in Paradise.
Bang, bozos! You’re dead.”
Frenchie’s cassette player
Unravels Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”
Snake, 17, from Daytona,
Sits at the water’s edge,
The ash on his cigarette
Pointing to the ground
Like a crooked finger. CJ,
Who in three days will trip
A fragmentation mine,
Runs after the ball
Into the whitecaps,
Laughing.
© Yusef Komunyakaa. (1993). Neon Vernacular, p.146.

Hanoi Hannah

Hanoi Hannah

Ray Charles! His voice
Calls from waist-high grass,
& we duck behind gray sandbags.
“Hello, Soul Brothers. Yeah,
Georgia’s also on my mind.”
Flares bloom over the trees.
“Here’s Hannah again.
Let’s see if we can’t
Light her goddamn fuse
This time.” Artillery
Shells carve a white arc
Against dusk. Her voice rises
From a hedgerow on our left.
“It’s Saturday night in the States.
Guess what your woman’s doing tonight.
I think I’ll let Tina Turner
Tell you, you homesick GIs.”
Howitzers buck like a herd
Of horses behind concertina.
“You know you’re dead men,
Don’t you? You’re dead
As King today in Memphis.
Boys, you’re surrounded by
General Tran Do’s division.”
Her k knife-edge song cuts
Deep as a sniper’s bullet.
“Soul Brothers what you dying for?”
We lay down a white-klieg
Trail of tracers, Phantom jets
Fan out over the trees.
Artillery fire zeros in.
Her voice grows flesh
& we can see her falling
Into words, a bleeding flower
No one knows the true name for.
“You’re lousy shots, GIs.”
Her laughter floats up
As though the airways are
Buried under our feet.
© Yusef Komunyakaa. (1993). Neon Vernacular, p. 141.

We Never Know

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.
© Yusef Komunyakaa (1993). Neon Vernacular, p. 145.