Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems

Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems

by Yusef Komunyakaa

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<P>Best known for Neon Vernacular, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1994, and for Dien Cai Dau, a collection of poems chronicling his experiences as a journalist in Vietnam, Yusef Komunyakaa has become one of America's most compelling poets. Pleasure Dome gathers the poems in these two distinguished books and five others—over two and a half decades of Komunyakaa's work. In addition, Pleasure Dome includes 25 early, uncollected poems and a rich selection of 18 new poems.</P>

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819574725
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 09/15/2013
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 468
Sales rank: 939,297
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

<P>YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA is a professor in the creative writing department at New York University. He has won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and many other awards for poetic achievement, including the 2001 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the 2004 Shelley Memorial Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the Levinson Prize from Poetry Magazine, and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.</P>

Read an Excerpt



I walked away with your face stolen from a crowded room,
& the sting of requited memory lived beneath my skin. A name raw on my tongue, in my brain, a glimpse nestled years later like a red bird among wet leaves on a dull day.

A face. The tilt of a head. Dark lipstick. Aletheia. The unknown marked on a shoulder, night weather in our heads.
I pushed out of this half-stunned yes, begging light, beyond the caul's shadow, dangling the lifeline of Oh.

I took seven roads to get here
& almost died three times.
How many near misses before new days slouched into the left corner pocket, before the hanging fruit made me kneel? I crossed five times in the blood to see

the plots against the future —
descendent of a house that knows all my strong & weak points.
No bounty of love apples glistened with sweat, a pear-shaped lute plucked in the valley of the tuber rose
& Madonna lily. Your name untied

every knot in my body, a honey-eating animal reflected in shop windows
& twinned against this underworld.
Out of tide-lull & upwash a perfect hunger slipped in tooled by an eye, & this morning makes us the oldest song in any god's throat.

We had gone back walking on our hands. Opened by a kiss,
by fingertips on the Abyssinian stem & nape, we bloomed from underneath stone. Moon-pulled fish skirted the gangplank,
a dung-scented ark of gopherwood.

Now, you are on my skin, in my mouth
& hair as if you were always woven in my walk, a rib unearthed like a necklace of sand dollars out of black hush. You are a call
& response going back to the first praise-lament, the old wish

made flesh. The two of us a third voice, an incantation sweet-talked & grunted out of The Hawk's midnight horn. I have you inside a hard question, & it won't let go,
hooked through the gills & strung up to the western horizon. We are one,

burning with belief till the thing inside the cage whimpers
& everything crazes out to a flash of silver. Begged into the fat juice of promises, our embrace is a naked wing lifting us into premonition worked down to a sigh & plea.


If only I could cleave myself from the water table below this two-step, from this opaque moan
& tremble that urge each bright shoot up,
this pull of the sea on fish under a pregnant moon. I sweat to buy water. It breaks into a dirge polishing stone. The oathtaker who isn't in hock to salt merchants & trinket kings,
says, Drink more water, Mister Bones.
The taste of azure. To rinse bile from the bony cup of regret, to trouble rivers till the touch of gold Columbus & his men killed the Arawak for floats up to ravenous light, to flush out every tinge of pity & gall — each of us a compass star
& taproot down to what we are made of.


I sit beside two women, kitty-corner to the stage, as Elvin's sticks blur the club into a blue fantasia.
I thought my body had forgotten the Deep South, how I'd cross the street if a woman like these two walked towards me, as if a cat traversed my path beneath the evening star.
Which one is wearing jasmine?
If my grandmothers saw me now they'd say, Boy, the devil never sleeps.
My mind is lost among November cotton flowers, a soft rain on my face as Richard Davis plucks the fat notes of chance on his upright leaning into the future.
The blonde, the brunette —
which one is scented with jasmine?
I can hear Duke in the right hand
& Basie in the left as the young piano player nudges us into the past.
The trumpet's almost kissed by enough pain. Give him a few more years,
a few more ghosts to embrace — Clifford's shadow on the edge of the stage.
The sign says, No Talking.
Elvin's guardian angel lingers at the top of the stairs,
counting each drop of sweat paid in tribute. The blonde has her eyes closed, & the brunette is looking at me. Our bodies sway to each riff, the jasmine rising from a valley somewhere in Egypt, a white moon opening countless false mouths of laughter. The midnight gatherers are boys & girls with the headlights of trucks aimed at their backs, because their small hands refuse to wound the knowing scent hidden in each bloom.

The Whispering Gallery

She's turning away, about to step out of the concave cuddle of Italian tiles before walking through the grand doorway to cross 42nd Street to glance up at The Glory of Commerce as she hails a yellow taxicab when he whispers, I love you, Harriet.
Did he say something to himself,
something he swore he'd never think again? Or, was she now limestone like Minerva, a half-revealed secret,
her breasts insinuating the same domed wisdom? Maybe his mind was already heading home to Hoboken —
his body facing hers — his unsure feet rushing to make a connection with Sinatra's ghost among a trainload of love cries from the Rustic Cabin to Caesar's Palace.
Hugged there under the curved grandeur,
she says, I love you, too, Johnny.

Tuesday Night at the Savoy Ballroom

Entangled in one motion
  of hues stolen from innuendo,
  their exulted limbs couple

& uncouple till the bluish
  yellow fuses with three
  other ways of looking at this.

With a touch of blood
  & congealed tempera,
  black & white faces surge

through a nightlife
  sweating perfumed air.
  Their moves caught

by brush strokes
  force us to now feel
  the band on an unseen

stage. Bedazzlement
  & body chemistry ...
  eyes on each other break

the law. They work
  hard for fun, twirling
  through sighing loops

of fray & splendor,
  watering down pain till naked
  hope glimmers in a shot glass.


I wait outside the Beacon Hotel
  for a taxicab to La Guardia,
  & dead ringers for Memnon

slink past. Here's another.
  Wasn't Aurora's son
  killed fighting in Troy

for the Trojans?
  His look-alikes stroll
  through glass towers

& waylay each other's shadows.
  How many southern roads
  brought their grandparents

here? Why so many chalk-lined
  bodies mapping departure
  routes? The Daylight Boys

haunt these footsteps tuned
  to rap & butterfly
  knives that grow into

Saturday-night specials
  tucked inside jackets
  ensigned with Suns, Bulls ...

Ice. Ecstasy. Crack.
  Here's another young,
  bad, good-looking one

walking on air solid
  as the Memnon Colossi,
  & may not be here at dawn.


I was on the corner
  when she paused
  at the crosswalk.

If a cobra's in a coil, it can't
  take back its strike. Her
  purse was already in my hands

when the first punch landed.
  She kept saying, "You won't
  take nobody else's money no

more." Her voice was like
  Mama's. I couldn't
  break free. Women & kids

multiplied before me.
  At least thirty or forty.
  Everywhere. Kicking & biting.

I kept saying, "I give
  up." But they wouldn't
  stop aiming at my balls.

The sky tumbled. I was a
  star in a late-night movie
  where all these swallows — no,

a throng of boys swooped
  like a cloud of birds
  & devoured a man

on a lonely beach
  in Mexico, & somewhere
  outside Acapulco that damn

squad of sunflowers
  blazed up around me.
  What I heard the stupid

paramedics say scared me
  to death, as the bastards
  worked on my fucking heart.

Never Land

I don't wish you were one
  of The Jackson Five
  tonight, only you were

still inside yourself
  unchanged by the vampire
  moonlight. So eager to

play The Other,
  did you forget
  Dracula was singled out

because of his dark hair
  & olive skin? After
  you became your cover,

tabloid headlines
  grafted your name
  to a blond boy's.

The personals bled
  through newsprint,
  across your face. Victor

Frankenstein knew we must
  love our inventions. Now,
  maybe skin will start to grow

over the lies & subtract
  everything that undermines
  nose & cheekbone.

You could tell us if
  loneliness is what
  makes the sparrow sing.

Michael, don't care
  what the makeup
  artist says, you know

your sperm will never
  reproduce that face
  in the oval mirror.


If you were alive, Art
  Pepper, I'd collar you
  as you stepped off the

bandstand. Last notes
  of "Softly as a Morning
  Sunrise" fall between us,

a hint of Africa
  still inside your alto.
  Someone wants to blame

your tongue on drugs: "If I
  found out some white broad
  was married to a black guy

I'd rave at her in games
  & call her tramp, slut,
  whore." Did you steal

the Phoenix's ashes
  listening to Bird?
  I'm angry for loving

your horn these years,
  wooed by the monkey
  riding you in L.A.

as if changes in "Mambo
  De La Pinta" could be
  rounded off to less

than zero. Words
  you tried to take back
  left blood on the reed.

South Carolina Morning

Her red dress & hat
  tease the sky's levelheaded
  blue. Outside

a country depot,
  she could be a harlot
  or saint on Sunday

morning. We know
  Hopper could slant
  light till it falls

on our faces. She waits
  for a tall blues singer
  whose twelve-string is

hours out of hock,
  for a pullman porter
  with a pigskin wallet

bulging with greenbacks,
  who stepped out of Porgy
  at intermission. This is

paradise made of pigment
  & tissue, where apples
  ripen into rage & lust.

In a quick glance,
  beyond skincolor,
  she's his muse, his wife —

the same curves
  to her stance, the same
  breasts beneath summer cloth.


Her fingertips touch his
  left palm, her grin
  like an image stolen

from Fellini's La Strada.
  "Don't you ever wonder
  where the Chinese were

in the '60s, when you
  & Chavez were out there
  facing dogs & billyclubs,

don't you wonder?" Her voice
  somewhere between Atlanta
  & Boston. Her blue eyes

linger on his Igbo face.
  "Family makes them so
  strong," he says, smoothing out

the napkin. "They've been here
  since the early railroad days,
  maybe longer. I don't know."

The waitress brings their
  chardonnay. Before she turns
  to leave, he notices the dragons

on her green silk jacket
  in some tussle of pale
  light across her breasts.

"I'm fascinated by all this
  Chinese stuff. Instructions
  for Court Ladies,
Du Fu,

I read what I can get
  my hands on, anything,"
  she says. A tiger fish

kisses the aquarium with its
  dark nose, eyes like two
  bulbous bloodstones. On a wall

to the right, a representation
  of Yan Liban's The Emperor
  Wu of the Northern Zhou

"Have you ever seen a black
  waitress in a place like this?"
  She's so quiet at the office —

does he know her, can the night go
  anywhere? "I like your dress,"
  he says. She nods & smiles.

The waitress serves their sweet
  & sour prawns, snow peas
  & curry chicken. Blue bowls

of steamed rice. "At Mount Zhiju
  is an inscription about black
  hair. Oh, well, I don't know

what I'm talking about
  these days." She pops
  a prawn into her mouth.

The hot curry tingles
  his tongue. A cube of onion
  tastes like something sinful.

"Have you ever heard of Ah
  Coy & Ha Gin?" He shakes
  his head, knitting his brows.

"I'm just fooling, being
  awful silly tonight."
  He notices the poster of Monkey

Creates Havoc in Heaven

  tacked beside the kitchen door
  where the scent of ginger & garlic

stream up from hot sesame oil
  like ghosts. "I used to come
  here last year. Every Friday.

The place hasn't changed.
  We used to sit right here
  in this same booth. Paul

& me." He wishes she'd stop
  talking. Those flowers
  beside the cash register

are too damn red to be
  real. "That was before he
  started dating a Chinese girl.

I think her family has money."
  The waitress refills their
  glasses. "Are you sure you

want to talk about this?"
  he says. She picks at
  the snow peas with her fork.

"They come here all the time,
  & I bet he'd just die
  if he saw us together."

Once the Dream Begins

I wish the bell saved you.
  "Float like a butterfly
  & sting like a bee."

Too bad you didn't
  learn to disappear
  before a left jab.

Fighting your way out of a clench,
  you counter-punched & bicycled
  but it was already too late:

gray weather had started
  shoving the sun into a corner.
  "He didn't mess up my face."

But he was an iron hammer
  against stone, as you
  bobbed & weaved through hooks.

Now we strain to hear you.
  Once the dream begins
  to erase itself, can the

dissolve be stopped?
  No more card tricks
  for the TV cameras,

Ali. Please come back to us
  sharp-tongued & quick-footed,
  spinning out of the blurred

dance. Whoever said men
  hit harder when women
  are around, is right.

Word for word,
  we beat the love
  out of each other.


Neighbors, please don't
  mind me this morning
  at windows balling my fists

at the sun. Lowdown
  bastards, imbeciles
  & infidels, a tribunal

of jackasses behind
  mirrored sunglasses
  with satchels of loot — wait,

calm down, count to twenty
  & take a few deep breaths.
  You don't want to disgrace

his heroic tongue. Go
  to the kitchen window
  & sit in that easy chair

striped like a zebra,
  & imagine how a herd runs
  with an oscillating rhythm,

like a string bass & drums
  trading riffs. The big cats
  can only see a striped hill

moving beneath a sunset,
  a grid of grass & trees
  in motion, a pattern to fear

& instinct, because they run
  as one, as sky & earth. Look
  at the scrappy robin & bluejay

squabble over earthworms
  underneath the ginkgo,
  as a boy on the edge

of memory raises a Daisy
  air rifle. Look at the robin
  puff out its bright chest

like a bull's eye. Only
  a boy could conjure
  a ricochet in his cocky head

that hits a horseshoe
  looped around an iron peg,
  a little of God's geometry

to get things perfect.
  A single red leaf
  spirals to the ground.

Where did the birds
  go, & why am I
  weeping at this window?

That's not my face
  strung to the hands
  holding the gun, unmasked

by the Shell trademark
  on his gold moneyclip,
  worms throbbing behind

the scab grown over
  his eyes. Those damn
  bastards murdered a good man

when they hanged Ken
  Saro-Wiwa. Why was he
  so cool, did the faces of his

wife & children steady
  his voice? "I predict
  the denouement of the riddle

of the Niger delta
  will soon come." Did
  you feel dead grass quiver

& birds stop singing?
  To cut the acid rage
  & put some sugar back

on the lying tongue,
  I'll say my wife's name
  forever — the only song

I'm willing to beat
  myself up a hill for,
  to die with in my mouth.

Keeper of the Vigil

When the last song
  was about to leave
  dust in the mouth,

where termite-eaten
  masks gazed down
  in a broken repose, you

unearthed a language
  ignited by horror
  & joy. A cassava

seed trembled in a pellet
  of fossilized goat dung.
  The lifelines on my palms

mapped buried footprints
  along forgotten paths
  into Lagos. The past

& present balanced till
  the future formed a
  wishbone: Achebe,

you helped me steal
  back myself. Although
  sometimes the right hand

wrestles the left, you
  showed me there's a time
  for plaintive reed flutes

& another for machetes.
  I couldn't help but see
  the church & guardtower

on the same picturesque
  hill. Umuada & ITLχITL
  reclaimed my tongue

quick as palm wine
  & kola nut, praisesongs
  made of scar tissue.

  — for Chinua Achebe


If she didn't sing the day here, a votive sky wouldn't be at the foot of the trees. We're in Rome at Teatro Sistina on Ella's 40th birthday,
& she's in a cutting contest with all the one-night stands.
"St. Louis Blues" pushes through flesh till Chick Webb's here beside her. A shadow edges away from an eye,
& the clear bell of each note echoes breath blown across some mouth-hole of wood
& pumice. So many fingers on the keys. She knows not to ride the drums too close, following the bass down all the back alleys of a subterranean heart.
The bird outside my window mimics her, working songbooks of Porter & Berlin into confetti
& gracenotes. Some tangled laugh
& cry, human & sparrow,
scat through honey locust leaves, wounded by thorns.


"May your spirit sleep in peace One grain of corn can fill the silo."

— the Samba of Tanzania

You try to beat loneliness out of a drum,
but cries only spring from your mouth.
Synapse & memory —
the day quivers like dancers with bells on their feet,
weaving a path of songs to bring you back,
to heal our future with the old voices we breathe. Sometimes our hands hang like weights anchoring us inside ourselves. You can go to Africa on a note transfigured into a tribe of silhouettes in a field of reeds, & circling the Cape of Good Hope you find yourself in Paris backing The Hot Five.

You try to beat loneliness out of a drum.
As you ascend the crescendo,
please help us touch what remains most human. Your absence brings us one step closer to the whole cloth
& full measure.
We're under the orange trees again, as you work life back into the double-headed drumskin with a spasm of fingertips till a chant leaps into the dreamer's mouth.

You try to beat loneliness out of a drum, always coming back to opera & baseball.

A constellation of blood-tuned notes shake against the night forest bowed to the ground by snow & ice. Yes,
this kind of solitude can lift you up between two thieves.
You can do a drumroll that rattles slavechains on the sea floor.
What wrong makes you loop that silent knot
& step up on the gallows chair? What reminds you of the wounded paradise we stumbled out of?

You try to beat loneliness out of a drum,
searching for a note of kindness here at the edge of this grab-wheel,
with little or no dragline beyond the flowering trees where only ghosts live —
no grip to clutch the truth under a facade of skylarks.

— in memory of Richard Johnson

Double Limbo

A sun dog hurries a lover home from a desk job or a factory of noise.
Car horns & solstitial candlepower.
Another long day runs with a pack of house-broken mutts around the neighborhood, treeing cats on fenceposts. The runt which sprung into Cerberus slinks beneath the moon's mad dogma, tamed when bloody feet touch springy St. Augustine grass where Ra & Shamash linger at the timberline.

The winter sun is now Bessie's
"Yellow Dog Blues"
given to you by a lover who drove off with a friend years ago. The shadows long,
& kisses too. A celestial claw bluffs the last sprigs of wolfbane into hush as "Yellow Submarine"
submerges in the hue of machines where a good feeling goes before it's known. But there's a dog-eared season that never fails to be reborn as Sirius beside the back door,
hungry for the sound of your VW.


Excerpted from "Pleasure Dome"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Yusef Komunyakaa.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

<P>New Poems<BR>Early Uncollected<BR>Dedications and Other Darkhorses<BR>Lost in the Bonewheel Factory<BR>Copacetic<BR>Toys in a Field<BR>I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head<BR>Dien Cai Dau<BR>February in Sydney<BR>Magic City<BR>Neon Vernacular<BR>Thieves of Paradise<BR>Index of titles and first lines</P>

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"The poems of Yusef Komunyakaa, all bearing his unique stamp of heartbreaking integrity, tower over the landscape of American poetry."—Molly Peacock

Molly Peacock

"The poems of Yusef Komunyakaa, all bearing his unique stamp of heartbreaking integrity, tower over the landscape of American poetry."

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