Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #5


Duke here... this week's powerhouse poem was introduced to me by Mutt. He had the privilege of hearing the author, Yusef Komunyakaa, read it in person, and was deeply affected by the experience. In fact, why am I telling you this? Let's have Mutt provide the commentary for the poem this week...

Mutt writes:
‘Thanks’ is probably the one poem that for me burst open the notion of what poetry is and what it can accomplish. I first encountered this powerful expression of Vietnam veteran Komunyakaa’s personal experience in 1999 at The New School when I heard him read it, which admittedly made a huge difference in how the poem came across. But the words themselves stand alone, even without his unique inflections and well-timed pauses. Although the recipient of the poet’s gratitude is unnamed here, the depth of his thankfulness for simply being still around is obvious, and in my opinion, moving. This poem reflects chillingly on the arbitrary nature of death that comes in combat to some men and not to others. But it also is infused with a beauty and simplicity that makes us glad we’re here on earth, and still alive.

I couldn't have put it any better than that. Thanks Mutt, for this outstanding contribution to the series...



Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper's bullet.
I don't know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman's wild colors,
causing some dark bird's love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer's gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I'm still
falling through its silence.
I don't know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.

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