In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 1061-1079

[Access article in PDF]


Yusef Komunyakaa

At The Red Sea

So, this is where
         cries come to us,
where molting seagulls
peck the air. I never
    thought Crown Heights
        would be so quiet, just
a cantor & a blues singer
    weaving all the old begats
        into Cato, Yankel, Andy,
Michael, James . . . all the others
    transplanted to earthen dams
        & tenements. Sabbath-breakers
& charlatans sow seeds to kill
    fruit. What we forgot
        or never knew is enough
to teach the ant to profane
    sugar. To see injustice,
        don't care where your feet
are planted, you must be
    able to nail your left hand
        to a tree in full bloom.
Now, look at Sheba
    in Solomon's hanging garden,
        carved by grace from head [End Page 1061]
to toe, she was "wounded
    by love of wisdom" hidden
        in a cloud of galbanum
& myrrh. Didn't the King
    trust his heart? Let's hope
        the crystal floor
over that silent stream
    had nothing to do with
        the color of her skin,
but to prove her legs
    weren't like a donkey's.
        We sense what we've done
even if we can't say why
    we're dismayed or overjoyed
        by how the stones fit
in our hands. The egg
& sperm we would love
to deny, they still move
the blood till we can hear
    "I am black but comely,
        ye daughters of Jerusalem."
Some of us grow ashamed,
    peering up from the rat's hole
        in the belly of the Ark
till we're no longer the same
    women & men. Like Sheba
        & Solomon, who asked
hard questions, we know
    if a man is only paid
        a stud animal's fee,
he'll butt his head
    till stars rain down
        & kill some stranger. [End Page 1062]

In Line at the Bank

She eyes my haircut
    & jeans with the blue
        washed out. A pink
bubble detonates in her mouth quick
    as a July maypop, & she flips
        her presses hair like Lauren
Bacall in The Big Sleep.
    No, I won't do my best
        imitation of Bogart. I am
thinking about Hatshepsut
    who wrestled gods & bloodlines
        in the Valley of the Kings,
lightyears ahead of this coed
    gazing into her compact
        mirror, with a hint
of stereophonic Fishbone
    escaping from the headphones
        of her Sony walkman.
I'm not upwardly mobile enough,
    am I? Her texts are sealed
        in their prophylactic
covers, The Deconstruction
    of Hannibal Lector about
        to fall from her book bag.
Hatshesitu's obelisks
    blocked the midday sun
        from the temple of Amen-Ra
as she donned a man's garb
    & changed her name to Hatshepsut,
        after declaring God seduced her
mother "in a flood of light
    & perfume." The oil of ani
        scented her limbs [End Page 1063]
& her fragrance reached
    the land of Punt.
        Lost in her mirror
again, waiting to pay
    a twenty-five dollar
        overdraft, this coed
stands as if she were at Deir-
    el-Bahari in a temple. But sex
        goes out of me. It gives up
like an angel lying down within,
    since there's so little of herself
        she's learned to praise.

Hagar's Daughter

She left Greenbush as Fire
    Flower, Sparkling Fire, & Ish-
        scoodah, headed for Oberlin
College at thirteen,
    the Credit River Reserve
        in her voice, consonants caught
in her throat, her tongue
    lonely for anything Chippewa
        & African, becoming Edmonia
Lewis. She couldn't stop,
    couldn't keep creatures & fish
        out of her head, porcupine
quills & beads woven into her
    footsteps lost in distant grass,
        & called herself Wildfire
in the gaze of blue eyes.
    She worked light into paper
        up in a second-floor room, [End Page 1064]
a pencil unearthing Urania
    as a marriage gift for Clara,
        her classmate. But nothing
overshadowed the two girls
    who swore she doctored
        their wine with Spanish fly
before two boys took them
    sledding. Attackers left her for dead
        in the snow. She was still thankful
for John Langston,
    a godsend who could argue
        vomitus & urine in court--corpus
delicti. A yellow bird
    clung to a low branch
        as shadows fell asleep
against a stony slab.
    She drew night & day,
        but when someone...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 1061-1079
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.