Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day: Yusef Komunyakaa

This seems like a perfect poem for Veterans Day.

Yusef Komunyakaa was born James Willie Brown, Jr. in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947. He eventually took back the name his grandparents had abandoned when they stowed away on a ship from Trinidad. He served in the U.S. military in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, and he teaches now in the Creative Writing program at Princeton University.

You can hear a vet named Michael Lythgoe read another Komunyakaa poem titled "Facing It" about Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial in D.C. at the Favorite Poem Project site. Just be prepared, because it breaks your heart to see the grief that still fills Lythgoe, 40+ years later.

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.


  1. Julie,

    You've got to see the video of Vietnam veteran Michael Lythgoe reading Komunyakaa's poem "Facing It" at the Favorite Poem website.

    In 2001, I was one of fifty educators who participated in the First Annual Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers at Boston University. It was a collaboration between the Favorite Poem Project and the BU School of Education. We teachers discussed poetry with award-winning poets, wrote up poetry lesson plans, and viewed the project's videos. The "Facing It" video was one that touched me deeply. I lost a good friend in the Vietnam War. When my husband and I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington several years ago, it was a very emotional experience for us.

    Thanks for remembering the veterans today.

    BTW, have you seen the website of Poets Against War?

  2. Julie,

    I'm going to add a link to your blog on my blogroll at Wild Rose Reader.

  3. There are no words--he said it all. I need to find more.
    Thank you, Julie.
    Didn't you at one point in the 90s head the UBS children's dept in Seattle?
    Janet from PaperTigers

  4. Janet - Yes, I headed up the Children's Section at UBS! Do we know each other?