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Callaloo 25.4 (2002) 1138-1139

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Cante Jondo

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yes, I say, I know
      what you mean.
            Then we're off

Improvising on what
      ifs: can you imagine
            Langston & Lorca

hypnotized at a window
      in Nella Larsen's
            apartment, pointing at

bridges & searchlights
      in a summer sky, can you
            see them? Their breath

clouds the windowpanes,
      one puffed cloud
            indistinguishable from another.

They click their glasses
      of Jamaican rum. To your
            great King, says Lorca.

Prisoner in a janitor's suit,
      adds Langston. Their laughter
            ferries them to a sidestreet

in the Alhambra,
      & at that moment
            they see old Chorrojumo. [End Page 1138]

King of the Gypsies
      clapping his hands
            & stamping his feet

along with a woman dancing
      a rhumba to a tom-tom's
            rhythm. Is this Florence

Mills, or another face
      from the Cotton Club
            almost too handsome

to look at? To keep
      a dream of Andalusian
            cante jondo alive,

they agree to meet
      at Small's Paradise
            the next night,

where the bells of trumpets
      breathe honeysuckle & reefer,
            where women & men make love

to the air. You can see
      them now, reclining
            into the Jazz

Age. You can hear Lorca
      saying he cured his fear
            of falling from the SS Olympic

by dreaming he was shot
      three times in the head
            near the Fuente Grande

on the road to Alfacar.
      But the word sex doesn't
            flower in that heatwave

of 1929, only one man touching
      the other's sleeve, & heads
            swaying to "Beale Street Blues."


From The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review (W.W. Norton, 2000). Reprinted by permission of the author.

Yusef Komunyakaa is the author of twelve books of poems, including Talking Dirty to the Gods (2000); Thieves of Paradise (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989 (1994), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Dien Cai Dau (1988), which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize; I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (1986), winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; and Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Komunyakaa recently received the 2001 Ruth Lilly Prize. He serves as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets and is currently a professor in the Council of Humanities and Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.



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