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Alternate Poetry Movement

I read an insightul report, by Z, on Martin Luther King Day observances in San Francisco. He reminded me of a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa.
I read an insightul report, by Z, on Martin Luther King Day observances in San Francisco :

MLK Day in SF : Clear Channel, Police, and Republicans Lead The March

He reminded me of a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa. But first, read Z's report and study his pictures. Then go to this page, click to the second 'Photos' from Fresno, scroll down to the last two pictures :

California Celebrates MLK's Birthday : SF Bay Area Indymedia

I discovered Komunyakaa by chance. A battered paperback volume of poetry, mis-shelved at the library. I flipped through it, of course, then I took it home.

Komunyakaa was born, 1947, and raised in Bogalusa LA. In due time, he was sent to Vietnam, as a reporter and editor for 'The Southern Cross'. About two decades later, he published 'Dien Cai Dau', 1988.

I apologize for the 'italic' markers in this first poem. Originally, I just used apostrophes, but they were not appropriate in the second position.

* * * * *

Report from the Skull's Diorama

Dr. King's photograph
comes at me from <i>White Nights</i>
like Hoover's imagination at work,

dissolving into a scenario
at Firebase San Juan Hill:
our chopper glides in closer,
down to the platoon of black GIs
back from night patrol

with five dead. Down
into a gold whirl of leaves
dust-deviling the firebase.
A field of black trees
stakes down the morning sun.

With the chopper blades
knife-fighting the air,
yellow leaflets quiver
back to the ground, clinging to us.
These men have lost their tongues,

but the red-bordered
leaflets tell us
VC didn't kill
Dr. Martin Luther King.
The silence etched into their skin

is also mine. Psychological
warfare colours the napalmed hill
gold-yellow. When our gunship
flies our backwards, rising
above the men left below

to blend in with the charred
landscape, an AK-47
speaks, with the leaflets
clinging to the men & stumps,
waving to me across the years.

* * * * *

I find Komunyakaa distant. When I write, I clothe my images, and my structures too, in me. Komunyakaa seems to me like a small boy, wary in a vast space full of things happening, not quite sure he knows what's going down, pretty certain there is nothing he can do to influence or avoid it. Somewhat like Jim Ballard.

It is palpable in these poems, as if "I don't understand" were written between every line. However, it lends verisimilitude, he describes what is there, instead of his opinion of it.

Here are two more poems, and a URL.

* * * * *

2527th Birthday of the Buddha

When the motorcade rolled to a halt, Quang Duc
climbed out & sat down in the street.
He crossed his legs,
& the other monks & nuns grew around him like petals.
He challenged the morning sun,
debating with the air
he leafed through -- visions brought down to earth.
Could his eyes burn the devil out of men?
A breath of peppermint oil
soothed someone's cry. Beyond terror made flesh --
he burned like a bundle of black joss sticks.
A high wind that started in California
fanned flames, turned each blue page,
leaving only his heart intact.
Waves of saffron robes bowed to the gasoline can.

* * * * *


Usually at the helipad
I see them stumble-dance
across the hot asphalt
with crokersacks over their heads,
moving toward the interrogation huts,
thin-framed as box kites
of sticks & black silk
anticipating a hard wind
that'll tug & snatch them
out into space. I think
some must be laughing
under their dust-colored hoods,
knowing rockets are aimed
at Chu Lai--that the water's
evaporating & soon the nail
will make contact with metal.
How can anyone anywhere love
these half-broken figures
bent under the sky's brightness?
The weight they carry
is the soil we tread night & day.
Who can cry for them?
I've heard the old ones
are the hardest to break.
An arm twist, a combat boot
against the skull, a .45
jabbed into the mouth, nothing
works. When they start talking
with ancestors faint as camphor
smoke in pagodas, you know
you'll have to kill them
to get an answer.
Sunlight throws
scythes against the afternoon.
Everything's a heat mirage; a river
tugs at their slow feet.
I stand alone & amazed,
with a pill-happy door gunner
signaling for me to board the Cobra.
I remember how one day
I almost bowed to such figures
walking toward me, under
a corporal's ironclad stare.
I can't say why.
From a half-mile away
trees huddle together,
& the prisoners look like
marionettes hooked to strings of light.

* * * * *

'Dien Cai Dau' means crazy.

And perhaps the distance is my own.

This is wonderful 22.Jan.2004 13:22

Migratory Bird

Bill, this is excellent work. I really like your selections. I don't know how I have read this author before but I rcognize the birthday poem. Maybe sometime you will host The Daily Poetry Movement. You have great taste, wonderful style, and a very warm tone that goes over like a candy bar that's really an energy bar. I like what you did and I hope that you will continue to do this.