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By Yusef Komunyakaa
  

        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.


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)

Poet Bio

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.

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