Yusef Komunyakaa

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As a young man, before college, Yusef Komunyakaa left his hometown Bogalusa, Louisiana and traveled to Vietnam as a War Correspondent for the Southern Cross Newspaper. He followed the many the many young soldiers, who were drafted into the wasteland of battle. His primary goal was to uncover the truth of the world with the clear accuracy of a journalist, but he came out of the war a poet, with terror seared into his psyche. In his book of poetry Dien Cai Dau, his simple language, dense imagery, and critique of the United States government illustrates his transformation from youthful innocence to the recognition of the humanity in all people, even his enemies.
Within multiple poems, Komunyakaa’s uses similes and straightforward vocabulary to
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In the poem “You and I are Disappearing”, Komunyakaa watches in horror as a girl burns to death, writing, “she burns like oil on water. / she burns like a cattail torch / dipped in gasoline. / she glows like the fat tip / of banker’s cigar” (17). In this short 28-line poem, Komunyakaa uses 11 similes, all describing the girl. When he portrays himself with arms “hanging at our sides,” he doesn’t use the similes, but every description of the girl utilizes one. He needs those comparative images to come to terms with reality because his innocence cannot bear truth’s brutality and his country’s hand in that suffering. Similarly, Komunyakaa usually employs simple words, like in his poem, “Facing it,” where he visits the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC and describes, “I turn / this way—the stone lets me go. / I turn that way—I’m inside…half-expecting to find / my own in letters” (63). At a face level, simplicity denotes youth because for most the sophisticated language will come later in life. However, although this…show more content…
In “You and I are disappearing,” The speaker describes the burning girl as a “field of poppies / at the edge of a rainforest…like dragon smoke” (17). Even through this obvious monstrosity, Komunyakaa can’t help but discover some beauty in her flaming death. He describes her as a field of flowers in a gorgeous jungle, even more meaningful because of his deep affection for nature. Furthermore, a “skirt of flames dances around her,” as if the speaker is almost imposing joy onto the girl because “dances” gives off a happy, lighthearted, and free connotation. Komunyakaa uses this as a coping mechanism. He needs to justify his role in her death, so he tries to make it seem beautiful, joyful, or at least artistic. He soon extends fault to the United States as well, comparing in the poem, “Toys in a field,” young American soldiers to kids “with arms spread-eagled [to] imitate / vultures” (56). The children like eagles, America’s national bird, are now becoming vultures, scavengers that feed off the weak, thus symbolizing that powerful America is revenging the word for its own gain. The country is not only destroying Vietnam and its citizens, but America’s own sons too. The government, which is meant to protect its youth, has thrown their young men directly into danger. This helps uncover the
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