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Boat People by Yusef Komunyakaa

After midnight they load up. A hundred shadows move about blindly. Something close to sleep hides low voices drifting toward a red horizon. Tonight’s a black string, the moon’s pull-- this boat’s headed somewhere. Lucky to have gotten past searchlights low-crawling the sea, like a woman shaking water from her long dark hair. Twelve times in three days they’ve been lucky, clinging to each other in gray mist. Now Thai fishermen gaze out across the sea as it changes color, hands shading their eyes the way sailors do, minds on robbery & rape. Sunlight burns blood-orange. Storm warnings crackle on a radio. The Thai fishermen turn away. Not enough water for the trip. The boat people cling to each other, faces like yellow sea grapes, wounded by doubt & salt. Dusk hangs over the water. Seasick, they daydream Jade Mountain a whole world away, half-drunk on what they hunger to become. From “Dien Cai Dau” (Wesleyan University Press: $18, cloth; $9.95, paper; 64 pp.; 0-815-2163-9). Dien cai dau (“dinky dow”) means crazy in Vietnamese; it was colloquial Vietnamese for “American soldier.” Yusef Komunyakaa of Bogalusa, La., was one of those soldiers. He first began to read poetry in Vietnam, as a respite from violence. (Though he was not at Mylai, he was a member of the American division that was responsible for the massacre there and felt the psychological aftermath.) Komunyakaa’s “I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head,” which was not about Vietnam, won the 1986 Poetry Center Book Award of San Francisco State University. He is an associate professor of English at Indiana University. Yusuf Komunyakaa, 1988. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.


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