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Thanks

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.

—Yusef Komunyakaa

from Dien Cai Dau © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa.

Published by Wesleyan University Press.

Reprinted by permission.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Yusef Komunyakaa (1947- ) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and the author of more than 10 poetry collections, including The Emperor of Water Clocks (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). He serves as Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate creative writing program.

Learn more about Yusef Komunyakaa at The Poetry Foundation.