Poems of the Week

28 Jun

THREE POEMS BY YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA

Light on the Subject

Hello, Mister Jack
The Ripper, come on in
make yourself at home.
Here in Deadwood City
your hands are clean as ours.
Our eyes flash back to
knives on silver whetstones.
Can I get you anything, partner?
Perhaps a shot of Four Roses?
In this gray station of wood
our hearts are wet rags
& we turn to ourselves,
holding our own hands
as the scaffolds sway.
I can tell you this much
Brother Justice, our faith’s
unshakable, even if we rock stones
asleep in broken arms.
We’ve all seen moonlight on lakes
& crows whittled from a block of air. In this animal-night, no
siree, we won’t disappoint you
when we rise out of hawkweed,
because we still have
a thing about Law
& Order.

Back Then

I’ve eaten handfuls of fire
back to the bright sea
of my first breath
riding the hipbone of memory
& saw a wheel of birds
a bridge into the morning
but that was when gold
didn’t burn out a man’s eyes
before aution blocks
groaned in courtyards
& nearby got the best of me
that was when the spine
of every ebony tree wasn’t
a pale wonman’s easy chair
black earth-mother of us all
crack in the bones & sombre
eyes embedded like beetles
in stoic heartwood
seldom have I needed
to shake a hornet’s nest
from the breastplate
fire over the ground
pain tears me to pieces
at the pottery wheel
of each dawn
an antelope leaps
in the heartbeat
of the talking drum

Letter to Bob Kaufman

The gold dust of your voice
& twenty-five cents
can buy a cup of coffee.
We sell pain for next to nothing! Nope,
you don’t know me but your flesh-
&-blood language lingers in my head
like treason & raw honey.
I read GOLDEN SARDINE
& dance to Calinda
to come to myself.
Needles, booze, high-steppers
with dangerous eyes.
Believe this, brother,
we’re dice in a hard time hustle.
No more than handfuls of meat.
C’mon, play the dozens,
you root worker & neo-hoodooist,
you earth lover & hole-card peeper.
We know roads dusty with old griefs
& hot kiss joys.
Bloodhounds await ambush.
Something, perhaps the scent
of love, draws them closer.

*all from Neon Vernacular, Wesleyan University Press, 1993.

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