For Carol Rigolot

        When deeds splay before us 
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. Though blood
first shaped us on the climbing wheel,
the human mind lit by the savanna’s
ice star & thistle rose,
your knowing gaze enters a room
& opens the day,
saying we were made for fun.
Even the bedazzled brute knows
when sunlight falls through leaves
across honed knives on the table.
If we can see it push shadows
aside, growing closer, are we less
broken? A barometer, temperature
gauge, a ruler in minus fractions
& pedigrees, a thingmajig,
a probe with an all-seeing eye,
what do we need to measure
kindness, every unheld breath,
every unkind leapyear?
Sometimes a sober voice is enough
to calm the waters & drive away
the false witnesses, saying, Look,
here are the broken treaties Beauty
brought to us earthbound sentinels.

Poetry Out Loud Participants: There was an earlier version of this poem on our site that began with the line, "I acknowledge my status as a stranger:". Judges should not discount a recitation that includes this line. This line does not belong in this poem and it was removed on November 13, 2013. The online version of the poem now correctly begins with the line, "When deeds splay before us". Unfortunately, this error also appears in the print anthology.

Yusef Komunyakaa, “Kindness” from Poetry 181, No. 5 (March 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Poetry 181, No. 5 (Poetry Foundation, 2003)
More Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa