Envoy to Palestine
I’ve come to this one grassy hill
in Ramallah, off Tokyo Street,
to a place a few red anemones
& a sheaf of wheat on Darwish’s grave.
A borrowed line transported me beneath
a Babylonian moon & I found myself
lucky to have the shadow of a coat
as warmth, listening to a poet’s song
of Jerusalem, the hum of a red string
Caesar stole off Gilgamesh’s lute.
I know a prison of sunlight on the skin.
The land I come from they also dreamt
before they arrived in towering ships
battered by the hard Atlantic winds.
Crows followed me from my home.
My coyote heart is an old runagate
redskin, a noble savage, still Lakota,
& I knew the bow before the arch.
I feel the wildflowers, all the grasses
& insects singing to me. My sacred dead
is the dust of restless plains I come from,
& I love when it gets into my eyes & mouth
telling me of the roads behind & ahead.
I go back to broken treaties & smallpox,
the irony of barbed wire. Your envoy
could be a reprobate whose inheritance
is no more than a swig of firewater.
The sun made a temple of the bones
of my tribe. I know a dried-up riverbed
& extinct animals live in your nightmares
sharp as shark teeth from my mountains
strung into this brave necklace around
my neck. I hear Chief Standing Bear
saying to Judge Dundy, “I am a man,”
& now I know why I’d rather die a poet
than a warrior, tattoo & tomahawk.
Yusef Komunyakaa, “Envoy to Palestine” from The Emperor of Water Clocks. Copyright © 2015 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.