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Callaloo 27.2 (2004) 407

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There's no rehearsal to turn flesh into dust so quickly. A hair-trigger, a cocked hammer in the brain, a split second between a man & infamy. It lands on the ground—a few soldiers duck & the others are caught in a half-run—& one throws himself down on the grenade. All the watches stop. A flash. Smoke. Silence. The sound fills the whole day. Flesh & earth fall into the eyes & mouths of the men. A scream trapped in midair. They touch their legs & arms, their groins, ears & noses, saying, What happened? Some are crying. Others are laughing. Some are almost dancing. Someone tries to put the dead man back together: "He just dove on the damn thing, Sir!" A flash. Smoke. Silence. The day blown apart. For those who can walk away, what is their burden? Shreds of flesh & bloody rags gathered up & stuffed into a bag. Each breath belongs to him. Each song. Each curse. Every prayer is his. Your body doesn't belong to your mind & soul. Who are you? Do you remember the man left in the jungle? The others who owe their lives to this phantom, do they feel like you? Would his loved ones remember him if that little park or statue erected in his name didn't exist, & does it enlarge their lives? You wish he'd lie down in that closed coffin, & not wander the streets or enter your bedroom at midnight. The woman you love, she'll never understand. Who would? You remember what he used to say: "If you give a kite too much string, it'll break free." That unselfish certainty. But you can't remember when you began to live his unspoken dreams.

Yusef Komunyakaa is the author of twelve books of poems, including Talking Dirty to the Gods, Thieves of Paradise, Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, Dien Cai Dau, and Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999. A recipient of the of the 2001 Ruth Lilly Prize, Komunyakaa serves as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. He is a professor in the Council of Humanities and Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.


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