Skip to content

These frantic blooms can hold their own

when it comes to metaphor & God.

Take any name or shade of irony, any flowery

indifference or stolen gratitude, & our eyes,

good or bad, still run up to this hue.

Take this woman sitting beside me,

a descendant of Hungarian Gypsies

born to teach horses to dance & eat sugar

from her hand, does she know beauty

couldn't have protected her, that a poppy

tucked in her hair couldn't have saved her

from those German storm troopers?

This frightens me. I see eyes peeping

through narrow slats of cattle cars

hurrying toward forever. I see "Jude"

& "Star of David" scribbled across a depot,

but she says, That's the name of a soccer team,

baby. Red climbs the hills & descends,

hurrying out to the edge of a perfect view,

& then another, between white & violet.

It is a skirt or cape flung to the ground.

It is old denial worked into the soil.

It is a hungry new vanity that rises

& then runs up to our bleating train.

I am a black man, a poet, a bohemian,

& there isn't a road my mind doesn't travel.

I also have my cheap, one-way ticket

to Auschwitz & know of no street or footpath

death hasn't taken. The poppies rush ahead,

up to a cardinal singing on barbed wire.

Poppies

Yusef Komunyakaa

More from
Poem of the Week

Michael Palmer

So