The poem “Tu Do Street” by Komunyakaa Yusef is a well-articulated piece of art that provides his personal experience in Vietnam. The poem fails to concentrate on fighting and war in Vietnam, but provides an extensive analysis of the social life the soldiers endured. The two main themes describing the social life of soldiers during the Vietnam War were alcohol and sex (Komunyakaa). For example, black soldiers were ignored whenever they entered and ordered a beer. On the contrary, mamas quickly served the White soldiers as they entered the same bar. As the poem progresses, Komunyakaa demonstrate to his friends his position under disguise that there was coexistence between black and white soldiers during the battle. It is only away from the battlefield that white soldiers discriminate against them, as was the case in the United States. The war in Vietnam makes the soldiers united because of the war, and the poem shows the distinction between the two races is observed on social dimensions. In terms of sex, the soldiers share prostitutes because they sleep with the same women despite their social discrimination. He states that “we fought the brothers of these women we now hold in our arms” (Komunyakaa 24). Therefore, Komunyakaa through the poem “Tu Do Street” shows that people are underneath the same even when they fight openly.
The title of the poem demonstrates the extent of racial division that is common in the society. For example, he states “two-door street” as a metaphor to support the existence of racial spaces in the society created by the interaction between nature and culture (Komunyakaa 17). The physical being of the soldiers was unified because they are biologically equivalent, and that is why they shared prostitutes. However, in the second nature, they are different because of the influence of socio-cultural factors that are fundamental in the development of unique personal myths determined by the difference in reality. Komunyakaa has illustrated liminal space in the lines “I close my eyes and can see men drawing line in the dust,” “America pushes through the membrane of mist and smoke, and I am a small boy again in Bogalusa” (Komunyakaa 4). The illustration “I close my eyes” is a demonstration of a mental flashback of the events and experiences of Bogalusa as a child.
In the context of Vietnam, the street name shows a narrative that was developed during a period of wartime. This is sufficient to add fluidity to his past and demonstrate the extent of divisions between America and Vietnam. The impact of the division presented by Komunyakaa is an indication of a liminal state. This kind of similarity is supported by the end of the preceding lines when he states that “America pushes through the membrane of mist and smoke” in focus to justify an abreactive model of trauma (Komunyakaa 4). According to this approach, it could be suggested that America and Vietnam were disparate, with the traumatic experience leading to “shattering” grounded on abreactive model. In the poem, the author demonstrates the coexistence of soldiers without problems, but racial identity causes racial identity.
Lack of liminality was evident from Komunyakaa’s narration of experiences of racial trauma during the wartime period. Racial trauma, as indicated in the poem, provides a neutral cultural space that enhances the dominance of the cultural division. In the phrase “I close my eyes,” it is clear that the poet illustrates the image of “men drawing lines in the dust” as issues that are relevant both in the past and present life (Komunyakaa 2). Here, the poet emphasizes the use of imagery in his work by illustrating “drawing lines in the dust” as an indication of segregation between the south, America, and Vietnam (Komunyakaa 3). Through imagery, Komunyakaa provides an opportunity for the audience to draw attention to the conflicting experience of racism that occurred in the south area during the warfare time in Vietnam.
Komunyakaa has elaborately used the poem to emphasis on cultural isolation in Vietnam that was influenced be culture. He argues that “…again in Bogalusa. White only signs and hank snow, but tonight I walk into a place where bar girls fade like tropical birds” this phrase uses description as a literal method to illustrate his past life (Komunyakaa 6). “White Only/Signs” are used in the descriptor to invoke a kind of isolation, and the “Hank Snow” is an illustration of cultural segregation (Komunyakaa 7). In fact, the poem depicts an exotic bar that is developed in America and which should not have instances of racial discrimination that was common in the segregated southern part. The poet starts the next line with the word “but,” which emphasizes the contrast between foreigners and the exotic differences depicted by the bar girls and the others. He uses a verb to describe exotic movement when he argues that they “fade” in comparison to the aliens (Komunyakaa 9). It is expected that the objective difference in racial discrimination could not be present. Another illustration of the use of exotic diction as a way of supporting the contrast of a familiar outcome is illustrated when he argues that “Mama-san” depicts a Vietnamese woman who should not follow the existence of cultural divisions in America, but he is surprised to observe a similar outcome (Komunyakaa 10). This prompts the strategy to reject patronage and support the transplantation of foreign American culture. Consequently, the level of racism and cultural alienations common in America are introduced in Vietnam.
The bar illustrated in the poem is in Vietnam and plays a similar music to what is common in Bogalusa. The name Hank Snow is used in the poem to illustrate the similarity of American culture observed in the Vietnams bar. However, the poet shows that the culture has become an integral part of Vietnam through artificial means as a way of depicting racism as an issue that is exercised similarly in different societies. This justifies the idea that racism is a kind of human nature that results from interactions and associations of culture. However, Komunyakaa has successfully indicated the existence of cultural division by using snoring of racism in Vietnam, he uses an angry and ressentiment tone. His essence of using an angry tone is to place the blame squarely on both races as a way of delineating the problem of cultural division.
The poet shows that the problems of racial division are manifested by Africans and Americans. He argues that “we have played Judas where only machine-gun fire brings us together. Down the street black Gls hold to their turf also” (Komunyakaa 15). In this phrase, the poet uses the pronoun “we” in the first line to imply to black Gls as an indication that both whites and Africans as responsible for the increased cultural division in the society. The diction used is an implication of cultural division as a crucial construct. For example, he uses the word “play” that has immature and pretending connotations, and the reference to Judas is a clear approach to accusing both racial groups as architects of cultural division. They are united by a machine-gun fire that is a direct assurance of death. It is clear that throughout the poem, Komunyakaa makes use of parallel experiences that are exhibited as racial trauma in America and Vietnam during wartime. This is an ideal rhetorical style used to advance the need for equality in the society. ‘
In conclusion, “Tu Do Street” is a poem by Komunyakaa that utilizes sexual desires and death themes to show the artificial culture that exist in societies.. He uses an example of black and white soldiers connected through prostitution, although they are socially different, to illustrate that humans are connected despite any social norms.
Komunyakaa, Yusef. Tu Do Street. Wesleyan UP, 1988.