Three Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa


Found in Willow Springs 21

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The Cops Call Him Charlie


An olive grove's heavy greenness

remains his only country & flag.

Without family or friends, fifty

years after the woman on the wharf

waved to him & the roots of acacia

embraced her, this old greek's

moored in the Tropic of Capricorn.

Digging in a sandpile street workers

left for Monday morning,

he glances at the faces of women

trying to dodge confusion & wet cement.

They spin away from the weight of his eyes

pulling them into his soft torture.

His dirty clothes & grimy hands

flag down three petty officials

who write in their notebooks

& leave him talking to a lamppost.

Smudged eyeglasses

posed cockily on an orange beanie,

he's barefoot,

speaking to someone in a different world.

He stands in the middle of the street,

leaning on a shovel, surveying the scene

like a foreman, as cars screech & burn

rubber around him. I walk away, afraid,

wondering if we suffer the same illness:

Seeing without having to see.


protection of Movable Cultural Heritage


Time-polished skulls of Yagan & Pemulwy

sit in a glass cage wired to a burglar alarm

in Britain, but the jaws of these two

resistance leaders haven't been broken

into a lasting grin for the Empire.


Under fluorescent lamps they are crystal balls

into which one can gaze & see the past.

With eyes reflected into empty sockets

through the glass, I read repeatedly

an upside down newspaper


headlining Klaus Barbie & Karl Linnas

& Bernhard Goetz. The skulls sit

like wax moulds for Fear & Anger­-

beheaded body-songs lament &

recall how mindy grass once sang to feet.


Now, staring from their display case,

they still govern a few broken hearts

wandering across the Nullarbor Plain.

Killed fighting for love of birthplace

under a sky ablaze with flying foxes


& shiny crows, they remember the weight

of chains inherited from the fathers

of bushrangers, how hatred runs into

the soul like red veins in the eye

or thin copper threads through money.


February in Sydney


Dexter Gordon's tenor sax

plays ''April in Paris"

inside my head all the way back

on the bus from Double Bay.

Round Midnight, the '50's,

cool cobblestone streets

resound footsteps of Bebop

musicians with whiskey-laced voices

from a boundless dream in French.

Bud, Prez, Webster & The Hawk,

their names run together

like mellifluous riffs.

Painful gods jive talk through

bloodstained reeds & shiny brass

where music is an anesthetic.

Unreadable faces from the human void

float like torn pages across the bus

windows. An old anger drips into my throat,

& I try thinking something good,

letting the precious bad

settle to the salty bottom.

Another scene keeps repeating itself:

I emerge from the dark theatre,

passing a woman who grabs her red purse

& hugs it to her like a heart attack.

Tremolo. Dexter comes back to rest

behind my eyelids. A loneliness

lingers like a silver needle

under my black skin,

as I try to feel how it is

to scream for help through a horn.


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