NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 57

And then there’s a set of juxtapositions or similes that I’d particularly like to think about. In a demanding description of a girl burning in “You and I are Disappearing,” a poem in Dien Cai Dau, Komunyakaa’s second collection which deals directly with the Vietnam War, the author documents the utter infiltration of this memory of a burning girl. We see, we taste, we hear, we smell her burning. A girl burning like a piece of paper, a shot of vodka, a field of poppies. We hear here, as we hear in music, a soundscape working toward and against expectation. A poem built in and out of the blue note. We hear the repetition. She burns like foxfire in a thigh-shaped valley. A skirt of flames dances around her at dusk. We stand with our hands hanging at our sides, while she burns like a sack of dry ice. She burns like oil on water. And in thinking of reaching — as Komunyakaa says — reaching toward the blue note, the worry note, the trouble, we see the poem’s obsession with reaching for the language to express. A poem entirely built on the struggle of trying to say. This reaching for, or trying to say, is conjured, among other things, by the simile. The repetition of “She burns like…” Which is to say, she is not this other thing, she has not turned into this other thing, but her burning is like it. The difference between the body of the girl and the body of the tiger or rainbow or cigar or paper — is both widened and collapsed. The “like” is, I think, the gesture of reaching, naming, and being haunted. The speaker reads the girl, sees the girl, in every burning thing. Too, because that “like” or “as” that makes a simile a simile always resists total reconciliation or metamorphosis, the girl is perpetually burning and the speaker is perpetually witnessing. The slide from one body nearly into the next which results in, to me, a poem that insists on living in this in-between realm which, in this case, is a realm of deep loss, and fire. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE Bacchus & Zulu A sack of papaya on a banana boat a poor man touching a lover’s satin glove a grandfather wearing a boy’s shoe & a girl’s shoe The repetition in the syntactical structure of sentences and the anaphora serve as a kind of convention of language (a scale, if you will) that the poet’s working in. The blue note or variation or reaching is born out of moments of variation or rupture in sentence length, completeness, or syntactical structure (which, for example, shows up as an inversion here: “We stand with our hands/ hanging at our sides/ while she burns”). 55 In his work we see the fragments, the seams, the pushing of the boundaries of the note, the body, the language, one’s understanding of history, even, to find this completely visceral, organic and complicated poetry. We can see this not only in the juxtapositions of languages, but in the surprise and sense of Komunyakaa’s image-based juxtapositions (examples taken from a few different poems):