Poppies
by Yusef Komunyakaa

copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa

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.