Monday, April 20, 2009

The Helmet

Perhaps someone was watching
a mud turtle or an armadillo
skulk along an old interminable footpath,
armored against sworn enemies,
& then that someone shaped a model,
nothing but the mock-up of a hunch
into a halved, rounded, carved-out
globe of wood covered with animal skin.
How many battles were fought before
bronze meant shield & breastplate,
before iron was fired, hammered & taught
to outwit the brain’s glacial weather,
to hold an edge? God-inspired,
it was made to deflect a blow
or blade, to make the light pivot
on the battlefield. Did the soldiers
first question this new piece of equipment,
did they laugh like a squad of Hell’s Angels,
saying, Is this our ration bowl for bone meal
& gore? The commander’s sunrise
was stolen from the Old Masters,
& his coat of arms made the shadows
kneel. The ram, the lion, the ox,
the goat—folkloric. Horse-headed
helmets skirted the towering cedars
till only a lone vulture circled the sky
as first & last decipher of the world.

Copyright © Yusef Komunyakaa
used gratefully and without permission

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