Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam as a war correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross. Komunyakaa is a prolific writer of prose and poetry. He received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award in 1994 for Neon Vernacular, a collection of poems. His other honors include the William Faulkner Prize from the Université de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He co-translated The Insomia of Fire by Nguyen Quang Thieu with Martha Collins. Komunyakaa is a professor at Princeton University.




We Never Know

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 crumbed 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.


Questions for Reflection: “We Never Know”
  1. How has Komunyakaa described the death of this soldier?
  2. How would you explain the poet’s reaction to finding the soldier? How might this compare to your own reaction?
  3. Why does Komunyakaa claim that “I feel in love” when seeing the soldier?” How does his reaction pay homage to the soldier?
  4. How is it that Komunyakaa shows respect for the dead warrior?