Dien Cai Dau – Awesome and Vivid Vietnam Poems
Professor Yusef Komunyakaa is just an awesome poet and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and the Pulitzer Prize Award for his book, Neon Vernacular. During the spring of 2009 I read four of his books for a class assignment and was just amazed by the brilliance I came across in his poems. He served as a military correspondence during the Vietnam conflict and was right in the thicket of the firefights where he wrote his stories.
Reading Dien Cai Dau brings the battlefields of the jungle right before the eyes. It’s realistic, dynamic and vivid. Having served in the army with the Airborne Infantry, I am able to identify with the principles, concepts, and thoughts in this amazing and realistic book.
The first poem Camouflaging the Chimera is chilling. For example read these lines: “The river ran through our bones. Small animals took refuge against our bodies, we held our breath, ready to spring the L-shaped ambush.” Such an ambush is one of the deadliest for any enemy force to find itself trapped into and cannot escape.
Moving on to another striking poem entitled, Tunnels, this one is more breath-taking. These are his words, “Crawling down head first into the hole, he kicked the air and disappeared.” This is the tunnel rat who finds the enemy underground in swamp, musk, filth and grime.
“Fragging” is a situation in which a soldier should never find his or herself. This means death to the person being “fragged,” and comes about when a senior ranking person is being mean-spirited to others in his own unit on the battlefield, thus creating hatred and conflict. Listen to these chilling words: “Slipping a finger into the metal ring, he’s married to the devil-the spoon-shaped handle flies off. Everything breaks for green cover, like a hundred red birds released from a wooden box.”
Watching a person burn is really a gruesome sight, especially when one is unable to do anything to save the person. These words bring to the forefront such a reality in the poem You and I Are Disappearing: “We stood there with our hands hanging at our sides while she burns like a sack of dry ice, she burns like oil on water, she burns like a shot glass of vodka, she burns like a burning bush driven by a godawful wind.”
These fellows in the next poem are very deadly. They will creep out of anywhere in the middle of the night and launch an attack. Listen to these words from the poem Sappers: “They fall & rise again like torchbearers, with their naked bodies greased so moonlight dances off their skins.” The imagery in this piece is vivid and poignant. One is able to see them clearly.
It’s needless for me to write anymore about these poems. The picture is quite obvious that the poems in this book are just breath-taking and dramatic. One has to read this book to appreciate the drama.
More information on Professor Yusef Komunyakaa, 1994 Pulitzer Prize Winner, may be obtained at the following site: