, Research Paper
The common theme in Yusef Komunyakaa?s poems is the Vietnam War. He focuses more on the experience of it, rather than the reasons for the war itself. In some of the poems, the issue of race was more evident than others. The race of all men was embraced in ?Camouflaging the Chimera?. The first word of the poem foreshadows the insignificance of color and the value of brotherhood. ?Camouflaging the Chimera? shows the dual, often diametrically opposed images. Recognizing that the horrific, absurd, and chaotic often lurk behind deceptive facades, the author vividly describes the soldier?s efforts to blend in with the natural environment, ?We tied branches to our helmets/ We painted our faces & rifles/ with mud from a riverbank? All of the troops were the same color then. The soldiers used the same thing to camouflage their skin that would be used to cover their coffins and ultimately be their final destination. This is one fate they all have in common regardless of the race. The poem entitled ?Hanoi Hannah? embraces the race of blacks. It is a free-spirited, inspirational poem with some intent to be a reminder of some of the good things back home, ?Hello, Soul Brothers. Yeah/ Georgia?s also on my mind.? Even for those African-Americans who did not live in Georgia thought of the state as a ?black man?s place to live?. There was always excitement in Georgia. Komunyakaa also acknowledges the anguish of mothers, wives, and lovers left behind. He doesn?t discriminate with color. He brings to life images of ?women left in doorways/ reaching in from America.? In the poem ?Facing It?, all Vietnam veterans are embraced. The opening line quickly dismantles any ?color? association with the beloved Vietnam Veteran Memorial. ?My black face fades, / hiding inside the black granite.? Color is no longer important when you have all fought the same fight, shed the same blood, and been shot with the same bullet. All of those who are survivors of the war are ?facing? the memories of it all; ?I see the booby trap?s white flash.? Many soldiers were killed by booby traps rather than combat artillery. In ?Facing It? there is a battle between reality and make believe, ?Names shimmer on a woman?s blouse/ but when she walks away/ the names stay on the wall.? It is a beautiful memorial for the vets, but a very depressing one also. The names can not be removed by anything, including the mind. Those who gave their lives for the country (black and white) all share the same end–the black wall and the black grave.
The embracing of race is noted in ?Hanoi Hannah?, but so is the transcending of race. The poem is about the confusing mind of a black man in the Vietnam War, ?Soul, Brothers, what you dying for?? And at this time, questioning the reason for being loyal to a country that hates you was on most African- Americans? mind. What were they fighting for? As soldiers of African decent made their way back into the community after serving faithfully and honorably in the military, many were denied employment, housing, training, and veterans benefits. It was also obvious that many Americans thought that the whole thing with Vietnam was ridiculous. People viewed the whites as loyalist, but the blacks were considered crazy. The title of Komunyakaa?s second collection on the Vietnam War, Dien Cai Dau, which means ?crazy? in Vietnamese, displays the opposition for a black man in the war. All of America was ridiculing them for their efforts while praising the rest, ?You?re lousy shots, GIs.? Regardless of a man?s ethnic background, if he fights for his country, his country owes him service, glory, and above all else–gratitude.
Komunyakka, Yusef “Hanoi Hannah” Fitzgerald Publishing 1985.