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