Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Yusef Komunyakaa

Happy Birthday to Yusef Komunyakaa, born on April 29, 1947, in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Komunyakaa, the author of many books of poetry, received the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, also for Neon Vernacular, and the 2001 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, among many other awards.

Here's a poem from Magic City (Wesleyan University Press, 1992):


On Fridays he'd open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
& ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, & sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams' "Polka Dots & Moonbeams"
Never made the swelling go down.
His carpenter's apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side & extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.
We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences . . .
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
& held them over a gas burner.
My father could only sign
His name, but he'd look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.


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