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- by Yousef Komunyakaa


Did a Byzantine general say Ah
when he saw a volcano shoot flames up
across hills? Is nature the master of war?
Could a fissure become a stone syringe
releasing liquid fire against an enemy? Hell
was now a beauteous glow made of naphtha,
what the Babylonians called the thing
blazes - oil seeping out of earth.

If a woman heard the secrets of Greek fire
in a soldier’s dream, he couldn’t save her.
Only lilies dared to open their pale throats.
After a turtle-dove spoke on her behalf,
the executioner couldn’t believe how light
his hands were, how heavy the axe was.


Two memories filled the cockpit.
The pilot fingered the samurai swords
beside him, as the plane banked & dove.
Locked in a fire-spitting tailspin,
headed toward the ship, he was one
with the metal & speed, beyond oaths
taken, nose-diving into the huddle
of sailors below, into their thunder.

The day opened like a geisha’s pearl fan.
The yellow kimono of his first & last woman
Withered into a tangle of cherry blossoms
& breathy silk. A sigh leapt out of his throat.
Before he climbed up into the cockpit
he left a shadow to guard her nights.

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947. Komunyakaa’s books of poems include the following: Gilgamesh (a verse play); Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999; Talking Dirty to the Gods; Thieves of Paradise, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Magic City; and Dien Cai Dau, which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize. His latest book, War Horses, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Komunyakaa is currently professor and Distinguished Senior Poet at New York University.