I’m Stone. I’m Flesh

if I had to give up the heavenly
taste of Guinness dark, I couldn’t
live another goddamn day. Darling,
you can chisel that into my headstone.”

Yusef Komunyakaa

We Never Know

By Yusef Komunyakaa

He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrelsHe
glowed white-hot.
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him.
I pulled the crumbled photograph
from his fingers.
There’s no other way
to say this: I fell in love.
The morning cleared again,
except for a distant mortar
& somewhere choppers taking off.
I slid the wallet into his pocket
& turned him over, so he wouldn’t be
kissing the ground.


Facing It 

By Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,   
hiding inside the black granite.   
I said I wouldn’t  
dammit: No tears.   
I’m stone. I’m flesh.   
My clouded reflection eyes me   
like a bird of prey, the profile of night   
slanted against morning. I turn   
this way—the stone lets me go.   
I turn that way—I’m inside   
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light   
to make a difference.   
I go down the 58,022 names,   
half-expecting to find   
my own in letters like smoke.   
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   
I see the booby trap’s white flash.   
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse   
but when she walks away   
the names stay on the wall.   
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s   
wings cutting across my stare.   
The sky. A plane in the sky.   
A white vet’s image floats   
closer to me, then his pale eyes   
look through mine. I’m a window.   
He’s lost his right arm   
inside the stone. In the black mirror   
a woman’s trying to erase names:   
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

I’m Lonely As Those Story Tellers

Michael S. Harper (1938 – 2016)

I have a great fear for the moral will of Americans if it takes more than a week to achieve results.

Michael S. Harper

Clan Meeting: Births and Nations: A Blood Song

By Michael S. Harper
We reconstruct lives in the intensive
care unit, pieced together in a buffet
dinner: two widows with cancerous breasts
in their balled hands; a 30-year-old man
in a three-month coma
from a Buick and a brick wall;
a woman who bleeds off and on from her gullet;
a prominent socialite, our own nurse,
shrieking for twins, “her bump gone”;
the gallery of veterans, succored,
awake, without valves, some lungs gone.
Splicing the meats with fluids
seasoned on the dressing room
table, she sings “the bump gone”
refrain in this 69-degree oven,
unstuffing her twin yolks
carved from the breast, the dark meat
wrapped in tinfoil and clean newspaper;
the half black registered nurse
hums her six years in an orphanage,
her adopted white family,
breaded and primed in a posse,
rising in clan for their dinner.
We reload our brains as the cameras,
the film overexposed
in the x-ray light,
locked with our double door
light meters: race and sex
spooled and rungs in a hobby;
we take our bundle and go home.


By Yusef Komunyakaa 
Drunken laughter escapes
Behind the fence woven
With honeysuckle, up to where   
I stand. Daddy’s running-buddy,   
Carson, is beside him. In the time   
It takes to turn & watch a woman   
Tiptoe & pull a sheer blouse off   
The clothesline, to see her sun-lit   
Dress ride up peasant legs
Like the last image of mercy, three   
Are drinking from the Mason jar.
That’s the oak we planted
The day before I left town,   
As if father & son
Needed staking down to earth.   
If anything could now plumb   
Distance, that tree comes close,   
Recounting lost friends
As they turn into mist.
The woman stands in a kitchen   
Folding a man’s trousers—
Her chin tucked to hold
The cuffs straight.
I’m lonely as those storytellers   
In my father’s backyard
I shall join soon. Alone
As they are, tilting back heads   
To let the burning ease down.   
The names of women melt
In their mouths like hot mints,
As if we didn’t know Old Man Pagget’s   
Stoopdown is doctored with   
Slivers of Red Devil Lye.

Do I Need To Say More

Yusef Komunyakaa

“Through the years I have seen myself as a peaceful person, but the awareness of the anger is part of that process.”

Yusef Komunyakaa


by Yusef Komunyakaa

In a country of splendor & high
Ritual, in a fat land of zeros,
Sits a man with string & bone
For stylus, hunched over his easel,

Captured by perfection.
But also afflictions live behind
Electric fences, among hedges
& a whirlwind of roses, down

To where he sits beside a gully
Pooling desires.   He squints
Till the mechanical  horizon is one
Shadowplay against bruised sky,

Till the smoky perfume limps
Into undergrowth.  He balls up
Another sheet in unblessed fingers, always
Ready to draw the thing that is all mouth.

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Louisiana.  He served in the Vietnam war, a combat war correspondent for the Army writing for the Southern Cross.   He returned and received a BA from the University of Colorado Springs, an MA from Colorado State University, and an MFA from the University of California-Irvine. His poetry is heavily influenced by his southern experiences, his war time service, his involvement with the civil rights movement and jazz.  In short, its well rounded and interesting.  Komunyakaa has taught at many prestigious institutions and was the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999-2005.  He has received numerous awards including the Wallace Stevens award in 2011.  

In reading a mixture of his poems, there is a directness and underlying tension that mixes well with his careful construction and word choices.   There is an autobiographical quality to most of his poems that creates an honesty in his craft that resonated with me.   In interviews, he speaks about his approach to poetry like a carpenter, in which each line is built carefully to support the next beam in the frame of the structure of the poem.

I am somewhat tired of the need to feel inspired by poetry during this long drawn out cold winter and never ending pandemic and now, more warfare in the headlines.  I am sure I will come back to syrupy sweetness again, but at this moment,  I am far more attracted to the directness and sometimes violence of Komunyakaa’s world, than the puffery of so many poets that transfers little mental nutrition.  Not that an occasional dose of inspiration isn’t needed, but I am preferring the company of poets who speak from an experience about a world in which the only thing we can do is to keep trying.  

What are you wanting from the poetry you read these days? Are you asking too much of it or even reading with the right intentions, forcing poems into places they were never intended? Of course that’s impossible, poetry can be whatever you want it to be.  What I am wrestling with is what words are bringing me the most nourishment these days, or leaving me the most famished?   How do I approach the meme-ish world of nothing-burger  land of so much of what I see on shelves of Barnes and Noble?  Does it satisfy you?  


By Yusef Komunyakaa

Beauty, I’ve seen you
pressed hard against the windowpane.
But the ugliness was unsolved
in the heart & mouth.
I’ve seen the quick-draw artist
crouch among the chrysanthemums.
Do I need to say more?

Everything isn’t ha-ha
in this valley. The striptease
on stage at the Blue Movie
is your sweet little Sara Lee.
An argument of eyes
cut through the metaphor,
& I hear someone crying
among crystal trees & confetti.

The sack of bones in the magnolia,
What’s more true than that?
Before you can see
her long pretty legs,
look into her unlit eyes.
A song of B-flat breath
staggers on death row. Real
men, voices that limp
behind the one-way glass wall.
I’ve seen the legless beggar
chopped down to his four wheels.