Yusef Komunyakaa’s Tu Do Street and Camouflaging the Chimera

Both “Tu Do Street” and “Camouflaging the Chimera” express the negotiation of racial boundaries in a new, unfamiliar environment where barriers are at once more rigid and flexible. While the speaker addresses the boundaries that exist between black and white soldiers, particularly in Tu Do Street, he also explores the relationship between himself and the Viet Cong.
As an African-American soldier, the speaker feels isolated from his white counterparts, even in times of leisure. The music that “divides the evening,” (Tu Do Street, 1) is sung by white singers (Hank Snow, 7, and Hank Williams, 12) and the speaker is passed over at the bar in favor of “white face[s],” (12). While interactions between black and white take place in a more illicit realm (black & white/soldiers touch the same lovers/minutes apart,” 28-30), the speaker also probes the hidden connections between the soldiers and their enemies: “Back in the bush at Dak To/& Khe Sanh, we fought/the brothers of these women/we now hold in our arms,” (23-26).
By exploring the dichotomy between loving and killing, to disparate concepts in both action and feeling, the speaker calls into question the human nature behind war and labeling the enemy by the color of his flesh. In “Camouflaging the Chimera,” the connections between the Americans and the VC are further established. While the distinctions between black and white are largely abandoned, as Drew and Tyler mentioned (the narrator is “We,” not “I”), the speaker focuses on the similarities between the American soldiers and their Vietnamese enemies. While “painting our faces & rifles/with mud” (2-3) functions to equalize the American soldiers in skin color, it also serves as an equalizing force between the Americans and the VC.

Through the poem, the VC are described with terms of darkness, literally as “dark-hearted songbirds,” (14), “rock apes,” (16) and “black silk” (24). This imagery works, on one level, to paint the enemy in a dark, negative light. On another level, however, it aligns the VC with the speaker, a black soldier. The final lines of the poem (“as a world revolved/under each man’s eyelid,” 30-31) distills the speaker’s understanding of the human aspect of war, as he acknowledges that each man, black or white or Vietnamese, has his own experience and history, and that each man is as much an individual as part of an army.
In agreeing with Kris’s assertion that the speaker, at times, tries to cross the boundary of race between black and white soldiers, I think the speaker is more broadly concerned with narrowing the division between all who fight against each other in any arena—black and white in matters of race, American and Vietnamese in matters of war—in order to shed light on their shared humanity.

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