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By Yusef Komunyakaa

We tied branches to our helmets.

We painted our faces & rifles

with mud from a riverbank,

blades of grass hung from the pockets

of our tiger suits. We wove

ourselves into the terrain,

content to be a hummingbird’s target.

We hugged bamboo & leaned

against a breeze off the river,

slow-dragging with ghosts

from Saigon to Bangkok,

with women left in doorways

reaching in from America.

We aimed at dark-hearted songbirds.

In our way station of shadows

rock apes tried to blow our cover,

throwing stones at the sunset. Chameleons

crawled our spines, changing from day

to night: green to gold,

gold to black. But we waited

till the moon touched metal,

till something almost broke

inside us. VC struggled

with the hillside, like black silk

wrestling iron through grass.

We weren’t there. The river ran

through our bones. Small animals took refuge

against our bodies; we held our breath,

ready to spring the L-shaped

ambush, as a world revolved

under each man’s eyelid.

Yusef Komunyakaa, “Camouflaging the Chimera” from Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)

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Poet Bio

Yusef Komunyakaa
Yusef Komunyakaa’s poems are rooted in his experiences as an African American growing up in rural Louisiana and his service in the Vietnam War. Influenced by the jazz music he loves as well as by people’s everyday speech, his poetry has won a number of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. See More By This Poet

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