from The Last Bohemian of Avenue A

Yusef Komunyakaa
| poetry


This train stop at Liberty Airport
used to be fields, now folks rush
into the city, going home or away
to a new beginning. I find myself
checking for grips & horn cases,
musicians coming in for cutting
contests at clubs & dives lit blue
& woodshedding a thousand miles
away, returning home to loved ones
& flings the other side of wild
acts in small towns, & bouquets
withering in glossy cellophane.

For years, I saw burnt emptiness
& heard a howl of sirens rise out
of Newark’s brutal air. The unrest
left how many dead? I remember
an inbred taint smell of corruption
smoldering in ease, palms greased
at station houses & funeral homes—
the whole damn effigy with its guts
hanging out, dragged through streets
by a two-tone run-away limousine
driven by a dead man in a tuxedo.

At the next stop, a throng of voices
stumbles in. Was there a ball game
somewhere, & am I the only one
caught with Return of Secaucus 7
in my head while improvising
a score on a phantom Selmer alto?

Sunlight glances off marsh reeds
late November, not even a note
of snow forecasted. The season
is abnormally simple, a swish
in tall grass along the railroad
quick as two or three animals
moving into a sway, or a lonely
mind off on its own. A small cloud
rises from those watery weeds,
& sounds shake up from humid
shadows underneath this world
between worlds, raising a waste land
of chemical plants, & I say to myself,
You know, I’m lucky to be alive,
feathers clinging to ragged stalks
as a sign of the future burning.

The grass whitens just before
the tunnel swallows a mouthful
of blackness, & then I can see
fictitious mole people lurking
as the locomotive speeds up.
But I know the pressure of air
only changed slightly, locked
inside our belief of bedrock
& steel holding up the river.

Yusef Komunyakaa’s books of poetry include Neon Vernacular (for which he received the Pulitzer Prize), Taboo, Warhorses, The Chameleon Couch, and The Emperor of Water Clocks. His plays, performance art, and libretti have been performed nationally and include Wakonda’s Dream, Saturnalia, Testimony, and Gilgamesh: A verse play. He teaches at New York University.

Selected Haiku for Jenny