A close RE-reading of “You and I Are Disappearing –Bjorn Hakannson”

After writing my previous blog post, “A Close Read of “You and I Are Disappearing””( https://morrison.sunygeneseoenglish.org/2019/03/24/a-close-reading-of-you-and-i-are-disappearing/ ), it was brought to my attention that I misinterpreted the author of the poem. The title of the poem is followed by “Bjorn Hakannson”, however, he is not the author of the poem. As Professor McCoy pointed out to me, the actual author is the same author as the poem “Facing It”, Vietnam War veteran Yusef Komunyakaa. After finding out this information, I re-read  the poem with the correct knowledge of the author and interpreted it in a much different way than I had originally.

Looking at the poem this time, I see it as being influenced by Komunyakaa’s war experience. Many bombings took place during the Vietnam War. The “she” in this poem could either be the bomb itself or a place that is being bombed, rather than an actual girl. Viewing the poem in this way transforms the imagery from passionate to hauntingly, eerily beautiful. The imagery makes the poem pleasing to read, but all the while the horror and reality of bombing lurks in the background. The lines “We stand with our hands hanging at our sides, while she burns likes a sack of dry ice.” (Rowell, 260) also make more sense when read from the perspective of Komunyakaa. When I read this now, I picture American soldiers watching as the bomb was dropped, standing still with their arms at their sides, just watching. I imagine that this image has stuck with Komunyakaa and is likely hard to forget. Ordered by the United States government, American soldiers did what they were told to do and what they were told was right. However, it is hard to imagine that there was no moral dilemma involved in this. Komnunyakaa seems to be giving us a sense of this with the image of soldiers witnessing the bombing. It does not seem as if the soldiers are happy about what they did, but more like they are trying to deal with the reality of war.

Bjorn Hakannson was a Swedish man who had dysmelia, a disease that results in physical defects. Although genetic in his case, this disease can be caused by exposure to radiation. The intent of including Hakannson’s name after the title could be to touch on the reality of the harm this event was. The bomb left a permanent impact on the people hurt by it, and on the minds of those who were involved. This is likely part of why Komunyakaa seems to be struggling with the event even after it has passed.

Knowing this information, I think it is important to do research about a poem after the initial reading in order to really understand it. Our own interpretations as readers are important, but background information can also be essential to understanding the poem’s true intent. Educating myself on Komunyakaa, the true author of the poem, and on Hakannson helped me understand the meaning of the poem and led me to interpret it in a completely different way than I did originally.

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