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This poem is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

Two Poems (editor's note: Yusef Komunyakaa was originally mispelt in PNR196 as Yusef Komunyakka) Yusef Komunyakaa


The neighbour’s mask of Torquemada
says, I accuse you of whistling the radio’s
aloneness a long ways from Miami.
I press a drinking glass to the wall
between us, but you’re reading Rimbaud
& other romantics of the secret handshake
& sceptre stealing the light of Havana.
You sit there as if you’re the last living heir
of a mob boss, swearing you can’t hear cries
from Guantanamo Bay, only a lost seagull
calling at dusk. Now, say all you know
about sweat & bedlam in the canefields,
how colour works here. Trees are my eyes & ears,
& they accuse you of dangerousness, of laughing
at Che’s ghost in the old Cathedral Square.
The waves carry your voice to the other side,
corrupting dolphin, electric eel, & starfish.
Forget the Bay of Pigs, the embargo,
abandoned ships & planes in a nightmare,
but you can’t deny a hunger strike or No
rising out of the earth, a mind clouded
by monarchs lifting over the valley,
another man broken into a country.
I’ll take Buena Vista Social Club
over your damn blogosphere any day.
I accuse you of not knowing a son is a naked
solo, a song, a falsetto held till it draws blood.
Yes comes out of the ground through a reed.
I accuse you of falling for the sweetness
in pears, thinking you’re so handsome.

Ten or Eleven Disguises

i: Pretending to Be a Rock

A twin of its long dreaming, this creature is its own god,
oxymoron, & devilfish.

A chunk of broken-off reef self-love sinks into – unmoving, asleep
in the attitude of a stone.

The billowy gills working down there is its only belief system.
The rock ascends through a starry effusion.

The mouth is a question slowly opening its eyes,
& the answer turns the water red.

ii: Shades

She slips behind dark glasses,
but she isn’t hiding a black eye
or bruise from the public.

She wants to stay there, half
hidden, anywhere else
other than where she is –

halfway through the door
of the Silk City Café,
around corners of a hard look.

Why can’t they stop
trying to find lost selves
& outlaw galaxies?

They say, Damn!
Your eyes are so –
so beautiful & scary.

Is there a single word
that falls between blue
& silvery green? Hyacinth
eases out to the edge
of a cautious smile,
but never lasts longer than a year.

iii: Blush

The woman sitting across from me
on a train headed to the airport
clicks open her compact mirror
& brushes rouge on her nose & cheeks.

Does she know powder can’t erase Africa
or the snip of an eyelid transform Asia?
Can she see our ancestor holding his little bow
& bone-tipped arrow to bring down a wildebeest

or wild boar easy as a lovetap?
She works the delicate brush to the edge
of a question, across her jawbone,
& now she’s a face on a billboard overlooking a village,

a voice only when the projector dies.
She begs for a glimpse of the dead living
in a landscape between blue & doubt,
for a whole colony of eyes on her.

By tomorrow this time I’ll be in Florence
singing to Leda of how a notorious heart
may own buttocks, root, & whimpering bud,
but underneath hides a masterpiece.

iv: Bleaching Cream
She was wounded by a word
somewhere in the Third World.
The mirror now taunts her nightly,
saying, You are the queen of Sheba
before her caravan rolled across desert sand,
before she dreamed of King Solomon’s bed.

v: Metamorphosis
I’m turning you into a girl
chasing a butterfly, a she-wolf
on a hilltop, & then back into a woman.

vi: Addendum to a Discourse

You know, I love these juicy pears from China.
I think they ascend the trees & brush each bud
with some feathery doodad. Yes, that’s right.
They climb ladders & slowly bend branches
toward them, & then lightly brush the pollen
on opening blossoms. Just a slight touch.
When little fists appear, they wrap each one
in a papery gauze. They prop up woven nets
of mesh almost thin as breath to keep away birds,
& wait for ripening to unweave up through the roots.
Just bite into this one, & your tongue will remember
foreverness. But, darling, I don’t know what this says
about global warming, why dead bees are in the honey
or fallen beside the hive’s blustery swarmhole.

This poem is taken from PN Review 196, Volume 37 Number 2, November - December 2010.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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