by Yusef Komunyakaa
When I first went down South
I heard folks humming “Dixie,”
half lost in Tin Pan Alley.
Back then I’d tap the root
of a feeling, turn it over
& jot an X on the devil’s
left foot to hoodwink
phantoms in cobalt ash.
Yeah, I was only a boy
from a company town,
one side of my street
brown-jug square dance
& the other side jitterbug,
but as I rocked on my heels
a brand new healing song
sprung outta night’s clay.
When I came back to town
I said to cousin Bright One,
Why are these outlaw drugs
on every neon corner?
With hands on wide hips,
she gazed up at noon, grinned,
& said, Brother Man, don’t you
know who runs the jolly boats
& twin-engine planes, who lives
in a gated cabal of plush green
lawns once big fields of soybean
& corn or landing circles for UFOs
decades ago? Can’t you taste war
in the water, in burning air? Yeah,
you must follow me back to what’s
rooted in black soil along a creek
where you can conjure a cutting
hoorah of birds singing baritone.
Yesterday I took an evening walk
along the West Highway bike path
overlooking the Hudson, as her torch
brightened the city’s mood swing,
& I said, What’s a damn heel spur
anyway? Is it stony, does it work
into a man’s brain? I know my feet
still remember the weeds & gravel
of country roads. My left leg is good,
but the spring of others undercut
my pace, & I think there should be
a real sharp pain in my right foot.
Yeah, I say, “Stars Fell On Alabama”
last night & slew the judge who rode
his horse Sassy to the poll, & dammit
I feel like laughing up a fury,
eating a bowl of blackberries.
Poem copyright 2018 by Yusef Komunyakaa. All rights reserved.
See more poems from Yusef Komunyakaa debuted on The Fight & The Fiddle: The Mountain
Read more in this issue: Interview | Critical Essay | Writing Prompt