Yusef Komunyakaa

Last Friday I became a fan of Yusef Komunyakaa.

In his poetry, Yusef Komunyakaa weaves together the elements of his own life in short lines of vernacular to create complex images of life in his native Louisiana and the jungles of Vietnam. From his humble beginnings as the son of a carpenter, Komunyakaa has traveled far to become a scholar, professor, and prize-winning poet.

One of my graduate peers is already a fan and speaks of him often, but I finally had an opportunity to familiarize myself with Komunyakaa at a reading. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come to grips with paying $35 for the book I wanted by him. Shame. And even more unfortunate, I can’t find copies of the poems I want to post online. I guess I’ll have to break down and buy the book. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a poetry fan. To put it nicely, I don’t really read it, and only half-know when something is good.

And now a Komunyakaa moment:

My Father’s Love Letters

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.

I know I haven’t been around lately. I’m trying to prepare for life’s next transition. I’ve been everywhere but here—where I wanted to be, but didn’t need to be. Some decisions have been made on my behalf against my wishes, but I’ve found a way to deal. I finished my master’s thesis (3 fiction stories) and now have one month before they hand over what’s due me. I’ve taken the good news with the bad. I’m dealing. I’m adjusting. I’m fine. Transition. Transition. Transition.

Happy reading, y’all.


7 thoughts on “Yusef Komunyakaa

  1. Wow, this poem is awesome. I was familiar with Komunyakaa, but not this particular poem. Thanks for sharing. And I’m glad to see that you’re back. Best of luck with your transitions.

    Here’s some good news: I’ve nominated you for a blog Splash Award. You can pick it up at my site!


  2. Come September I be entering the stress you’re now exiting, so I sympathise with you and wish you all the best.

    I’m not a great fan of poetry, but this is lovely.


  3. His work is beautiful. I’ve been able to see/hear him read a couple of times. Congrats on finishing. I’ve been there and remember when I felt that it would never end. Your transition is going to be fine. πŸ™‚


  4. I love Yusef Komunyakaa. And now you do, too. Awesome.

    Completely unrelated…but I’m telling everyone I know to read Chris Cleave’s “Little Bee” if they haven’t yet. It’s devestatingly good. Okay, end plug. πŸ˜€


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