Two from Yusef Komunyakaa

16 November 2011, 11:09 am

Fog Galleon

Horse-headed clouds, flags
& pennants tied to black
Smokestacks in swamp mist.
From the quick green calm
Some nocturnal bird calls
Ship ahoy, ship ahoy!
I press against the taxicab
Window. I’m back here, interfaced
With a dead phosphorescence;
The whole town smells
Like the world’s oldest anger.
Scabrous residue hunkers down under
Sulfur & dioxide, waiting
For sunrise, like cargo
On a phantom ship outsde Gaul.
Cool glass against my cheek
Pulls me back from the black schooner
On a timeless sea – everything
Dwarfed beneath the papermill
Lights blinking behind the cloudy
Commerce of wheels, of chemicals
That turn workers into pulp
When they fall into vats
Of steamy serenity.

Salt

Lisa, Leona, Loretta?
She’s sipping a milkshake
in Woolworths, dressed in
Chiffon & fat pearls.
She looks up at me,
Grabs her purse
& pulls at the hem
Of her skirt. I want to say
I’m just here to buy
A box of Epsom salt
For my grandmother’s feet.
Lena, Lois? I feel her
Strain to not see me.
Lines are now etched
At the corners of her thin,
Pale mouth. Does she know
I know her grandfather
Rode a white horse
Through Poplas Quarters
Searching for black women,
How he killed Indians
& stole land with bribes
& fake deeds? I remember
She was seven & I was five
When she ran up to me like a cat
With a gypsy moth in its mouth
& we played doctor & house
Under the low branches of a raintree
Encircled with red rhododendrons.
We could pull back the leaves
& see grandmama ironing
At their wide window. Once
Her mother moved so close
To the yardman we thought they’d kiss.
What the children of housekeepers
& handymen knew was enough
To stop biological clocks,
& it’s hard now not to walk over
& mention how her grandmother
Killed her idot son
& salted him down
In a wooden barrel.

(from “New Poems”, Neon Vernacular, Wesleyan University Press/ University Press of New England, 1993)


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