Envoy to Palestine

By Yusef Komunyakaa b. 1947 Yusef Komunyakaa
I’ve come to this one grassy hill
in Ramallah, off Tokyo Street,
to place a few red anemones
& a sheaf of wheat on Darwish’s grave.
A borrowed line transported me beneath
a Babylonian moon & I found myself
lucky to have the shadow of a coat
as warmth, listening to a poet’s song
of Jerusalem, the hum of a red string
Caesar stole off Gilgamesh’s lute.
I know a prison of sunlight on the skin.
The land I come from they also dreamt
before they arrived in towering ships
battered by the hard Atlantic winds.
Crows followed me from my home.
My coyote heart is an old runagate
redskin, a noble savage, still Lakota,
& I knew the bow before the arch.
I feel the wildflowers, all the grasses
& insects singing to me. My sacred dead
is the dust of restless plains I come from,
& I love when it gets into my eyes & mouth
telling me of the roads behind & ahead.
I go back to broken treaties & smallpox,
the irony of barbed wire. Your envoy
could be a reprobate whose inheritance
is no more than a swig of firewater.
The sun made a temple of the bones
of my tribe. I know a dried-up riverbed
& extinct animals live in your nightmares
sharp as shark teeth from my mountains
strung into this brave necklace around
my neck. I hear Chief Standing Bear
saying to Judge Dundy, “I am a man,”
& now I know why I’d rather die a poet
than a warrior, tattoo & tomahawk.

Source: Poetry (March 2014).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2014
 Yusef  Komunyakaa

Biography

In his poetry, Yusef Komunyakaa weaves together the elements of his own life in short lines of vernacular to create complex images of life in his native Louisiana and the jungles of Vietnam. From his humble beginnings as the son of a carpenter, Komunyakaa has traveled far to become a scholar, professor, and prize-winning poet. In 1994, he claimed the Pulitzer Prize and the $50,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his Neon . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Race & Ethnicity, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.