A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Brother of the blowfly
And godhead, you work magic
In slabs of bad pork
And flophouses. Yes, you
Go to the root of all things.
You are sound & mathematical.
Jesus, Christ, you’re merciless
With the truth. Ontological & lustrous,
You cast spells on beggars & kings
Behind the stone door of Caesar’s tomb
Or split trench in a field of ragweed.
No decree or creed can outlaw you
As you take every living thing apart. Little
Master of earth, no one gets to heaven
Without going through you first.
Reprinted from the Internet Poetry Archive sponsored by the University of North Carolina Press. For educational use only.
Yusef Komunyakaa is an American poet who teaches at New York University and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Komunyakaa is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, for Neon Vernacular and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He also received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Komunyakaa received the 2007 Louisiana Writer Award for his enduring contribution to the poetry world.
His subject matter ranges from the black general experience through rural Southern life before the Civil Rights era and his experience as a soldier during the Vietnam War.
Komunyakaa was probably born in 1941 (formerly cited as 1947) and given the name James William Brown, the eldest of five children of James William Brown, a carpenter. He later reclaimed the name Komunyakaa that his grandfather, a stowaway in a ship from Trinidad, had lost. He grew up in the small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana before and during the Civil Rights era.
He served in the U.S. Army, serving one tour of duty in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He worked as a specialist for the military paper, Southern Cross, covering actions and stories, interviewing fellow soldiers, and publishing articles on Vietnamese history, which earned him a Bronze Star.
Komunyakaa married Australian novelist Mandy Sayer in 1985, and in the same year, became an associate professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. He also held the Ruth Lilly Professorship for two years from 1989 to 1990. He and Sayer were married for ten years. He later had a relationship with India-born poet Reetika Vazirani, which ended when she took her own life and that of their 2-year old child Jehan in 2003.
He taught at Indiana University until the fall of 1997, when he became an English professor at Princeton University. Yusef Komunyakaa is currently a professor in the Creative Writing Program at New York University.
[Biography adapted from Wikipedia}