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  • from The Last Bohemian of Avenue A
  • Yusef Komunyakaa (bio)

After a gig I’d circle these streetsto air the smoke from my clothesearly mornings, as a light snowfell in my black beard. I feltklezmer leapt out of my altoback there at the Village Gate,tangled in the Southern accentof a trumpet, the piano & bassdaring me to slay a whole forest.

These days, I lean into a tune,unable to forget I was almostthe man with the golden arm.But I could hear Lady Dayoutside the Five Spot,a gardenia withering in her hair,saying, Do you know whatyou gotta bring, Loverman?Some nights her blown kissesfloated through my mouthpieceas if an apparition craved a body,for Bogart to say, Play it again,Sam. I’d summon a voice asking,What makes you wish to walkupright on a morning like this?But as streetlights struck brassI didn’t have to answer the dark.

Sometimes one craves an epicto unravel, to untangle the years& follow tributaries into the cave. [End Page 620] I’m only another ragged footnoteto a blues crossing the Atlantic.I’m here to unlock the shacklesholding skeletons under the sea,& I can’t say how this happenswhen I’m sweating up there.If I did, I could never blowjubilation, saying, Hush, child,don’t you say a mumbling word.

Now, with my body on the blockI say to all you youngbloods,I dig playing the Candlelight,how everyone listens to what tiesgutstring to hidden rafters. The struggleof Being stripped down & stoodagainst a wall, left humming, singled out.I play everything I know,as if the whole pulsing thingpulls everyone together—four hours in a temple where Irock like a struck bellin afternoon light, & I say to myself,Rabbas, show the belly, & playher water broketo ferry me acrossthe great divide.

Once someone told meMiles was gigging in Paris,& I said, I think I’ll fly over& corner him at Jimmy’sin Saint-Paul de Vence.I thought the two of us could talksense into him, & we’d recordsome spirituals & gospel tunes.I planned to take boxing glovesto grab his undivided attention.He knew I could still drop [End Page 621] the hammer, & my footworktrue as my chord changes.If I had followed my mindto the sacred & profanedin a simple sentence, threeblack men talking till dawnabout the shape of thingsto come & gone, sipping Jack,& gazing at a half-friendly sky,my idea would now be legend.Miles said he loved balladstoo much to keep playing them,but some nights I can’t sleepbecause I can’t stop listeningto a recording we never made.Can you feel where I want to go?I believe it is good as All Blues,the mother & father of rhythm,but I still have four damn gloveshanging on a hook in my closet. [End Page 622]

Yusef Komunyakaa

yusef komunyakaa’s thirteen books of poetry include Taboo, Dien Cai Dau, Neon Vernacular, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize, Warhorses, and most recently, The Chameleon Couch. His plays, performance art, and libretti have been performed internationally, and include Saturnalia, Testimony, and Gilgamesh. He teaches at New York University.



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pp. 620-622
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