My black face fades, hiding inside the black granite. I said I wouldn't, dammit: No tears. I'm stone. I'm flesh. My clouded reflection eyes me like a bird of prey, the profile of night slanted against morning. I turn this way—the stone lets me go. I turn that way—I'm inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial again, depending on the light to make a difference. I go down the 58,022 names, half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke. I touch the name Andrew Johnson; I see the booby trap's white flash. Names shimmer on a woman's blouse but when she walks away the names stay on the wall. Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's wings cutting across my stare. The sky. A plane in the sky. A white vet's image floats closer to me, then his pale eyes look through mine. I'm a window. He's lost his right arm inside the stone. In the black mirror a woman's trying to erase names: No, she's brushing a boy's hair.
Yusef Komunyakaa - 1947-
The seven o'clock whistle Made the morning air fulvous With a metallic syncopation, A key to a door in the sky---opening & closing flesh. The melody Men & women built lives around, Sonorous as the queen bee's fat Hum drawing workers from flowers, Back to the colonized heart. A titanous puff of steam rose From the dragon trapped below Iron, bricks, & wood. The whole black machine Shuddered: blue jays & redbirds Wove light through leaves & something dead under the foundation Brought worms to life. Men capped their thermoses, Switched off Loretta Lynn, & slid from trucks & cars. The rip saws throttled & swung out over logs On conveyer belts. Daddy lifted the tongs To his right shoulder . . . a winch Uncoiled the steel cable From its oily scrotum; He waved to the winchman & iron teeth bit into the pine. Yellow forklifts darted With lumber to boxcars Marked for distant cities. At noon, Daddy would walk Across the field of goldenrod & mustard weeds, the pollen Bright & sullen on his overalls. He'd eat on our screened-in Back porch---red beans & rice With hamhocks & cornbread. Lemonade & peach Jello. The one o'clock bleat Burned sweat & salt into afternoon & the wheels within wheels Unlocked again, pulling rough boards Into the plane's pneumatic grip. Wild geese moved like a wedge Between sky & sagebrush, As Daddy pulled the cable To the edge of the millpond & sleepwalked cypress logs. The day turned on its axle & pyramids of russet sawdust Formed under corrugated Blowpipes fifty feet high. The five o'clock whistle Bellowed like a bull, controlling Clocks on kitchen walls; Women dabbed loud perfume Behind their ears & set tables Covered with flowered oilcloth.
When my father was kicked by the foreman, He booted him back, & his dreams slouched into an aftershock Of dark women whispering To each other. Like petals of a black rose In one of Busby Berkeley's Oscillating dances in a broken room. Shadows, Runagates & Marys. The steel-gray evening was a canvas Zigzagged with questions Curling up from smokestacks, as dusky birds Brushed blues into a montage Traced back to L'Amistad & the psychosis Behind Birth of a Nation. With eyes against glass & ears to diaphanous doors, I heard a cornered prayer. Car lights rubbed against our windows, Ravenous as snow wolves. A brick fell into the livingroom like a black body, & a riot of drunk curses Left the gladioli & zinnias Maimed. Double dares Took root in night soil. The whistle boiled Gutbucket underneath silence & burned with wrath. But by then Daddy was with Uncle James Outside The Crossroad, Their calloused fingers caressing the .38 On the seat of the pickup; Maybe it was the pine-scented moonglow That made him look so young & faceless, wearing his mother's powder blue Sunday dress & veiled hat.