Like Poisoned Butterflies...

Long time readers know that I'm a huge fan of Yusef Komunyakaa's poetry. I started reading him is college, and was just stunned by his rhythm and his sense of the surreal. Again, like Doctorow, he struck me as a great MC who'd started writing before MCing became literary. My favorite rappers always had a great sense of the surreal--Prodigy's "gunshots will make you levitate"--and of course great rhythm. I wrote before about how Rakim's lyrics left so much to the imagination, how the wonder of it all was actually getting lost in his world, in his sense of the MC. Like The God, I would read Komunyakaa and feel "the earth get further and further away\Planet's as small as balls of clay." I would feel lost.

My one regret is not valuing that feeling. I was, what, nineteen maybe? And all I wanted to do was write with that sort of impact, and I thought if understood everything literally, if I wasn't lost, if I had immediate answers I could do it. I was so young and literal--Who the hell is Thorn Merchant? What's the deal with his daughter? And what kind of name is Eddie the Immune? What I'm slowly getting is how much I overvalued "facts," or rather I'm getting that truth is subjective, and this is beautiful and very different from "facts." I think about these lines from the  great Raekwon:

You never had no wins, sliding in these dens with Timbs,
With Mac-10s and broke friends
You got guns, got guns too
Wanna battle for cash and see who sons who...

Now, that's just gorgeous writing, but for years I thought that last line was "Wanna battle for cash and see who's Sun Tzu." Obviously that's a different meaning, and the actual lyric is still a great line. But I enjoyed the partnership between my imagination and his writing. It wasn't wrong to hear that. It was essential.

Back to Komunyakaa, his poem "White Lady" is after the jump. I knew what this one was about in the broad sense but again, Komunyakaa, like any great artist, leaves so much work for us to do. I'm still thinking on "the green freedom of crows at Slaughterhouse creek."  And then this image:

Their heads fill with wings
& then they touch down again
like poisoned butterflies
bumping into bougainvillea.

Read the whole piece. It's one of my favorites. And then do yourself a favor and buy Neon Vernacular, which won the Pulitzer back in 15 years ago. And buy Thieves of Paradise also. "White Lady" is taken from the latter. Someone is selling it on Amazon for a penny. I'm counting on that copy being gone by tomorrow.

White Lady

Something to kill songs
& burn the guts, to ride
& break the hippocampus.
Something to subdue
the green freedom of crows
at Slaughterhouse Creek.
Milk mixed with gin or metho--
something to finish the job
guns & smallpox blankets
didn't do, to prod women
& seduce gods to dance
among trees, letting silver bark
uncurl into an undressed season.
Something to undermine those who
refuse to dangle brass breastplates
from their necks like King Billy.

Something to erase the willy wagtail
from vesperal leaves. No one
can sniff the air & walk miles
straight to water anymore.
Their heads fill with wings
& then they touch down again
like poisoned butterflies
bumping into bougainvillea.
Fringe dwellers languish,
piles of old clothes under gums.
White Lady is their giddy queen,
her arms flung around sleeping
children, ruling dreams
with an iron scepter,
her eyes screwed into them
like knots in bloodwood.