Born James Willie Brown in Bogalusa, Louisiana, Yusef Komunyakaa took the ancestral name of his slave relatives in Trinidad. After serving in Vietnam, Komunyakaa went to college and started writing poetry that sought to recapitulate African American folkways and history using a modern idiom, inflected by jazz and other musical traditions. Komunyakaa has resisted being pigeonholed as a "jazz" poet or a "war" poet. In a recent interview he talked about how literature "is woven from masks. It involves a conjuring and acceptance of mystery. It’s almost like dealing with a series of overlays." Yet paradoxically, truth is revealed in the making of those overlays. A poem called "Blackbirding on the Hudson" (about the kidnapping and enslavement of black children) concludes: "I know the mockingbird stole cries out of the air / passed them down through the egg, & is now our only reliable witness." Except for the poet himself, of course.