A Poem For Saturday


This weekend we’re featuring poems from The Chameleon Couch, the eighth and newest collection by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa. His many awards during his distinguished career include the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. In Poetry Magazine, David Wojahn praised him as a poet with “a near-revelatory capacity to give himself over to his subject matter and to the taut concision of his free verse.” Here’s Komunyakaa’s “A Voice on an Answering Machine”:

I can’t erase her voice. If I opened the door to the cage & tossed
the magpie into the air, a part of me would fly away, leaving only
the memory of a plucked string trembling in the night. The voice
unwinds breath, soldered wires, chance, loss, & digitalized im-
pulse. She’s telling me how light pushed darkness till her father
stood at the bedroom door dressed in a white tunic. Sometimes
we all wish we could put words back into our mouths.

I have a plant of hers that has died many times, only to be revived
with less water & more light, always reminding me of the voice
caught inside the little black machine. She lives between the Vale
of Kashmir & nirvana, beneath a bipolar sky. The voice speaks of
an atlas & a mask, a map of Punjab, an ugly scar from college days
on her abdomen, the unsaid credo, but I still can’t make the voice
say, Look, I’m sorry. I’ve been dead for a long time.

(From The Chameleon Couch: Poems © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used by kind permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Photo by David Shankbone)