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About this Poem 

"'Daytime Begins with a Line By Anna Akhmatova' addresses a number of polarities as we think about class and its relationship to the creation of art, especially when considering Akhmatova’s apt critique of old world postures through an astute modernist lens. When she lived at the Marble Palace with her second husband, Vladimir Shileiko, one cannot overlook the fact she produced few poems in those years, perhaps because of their dire situation or her husband’s reductive attitude toward her poetry. Shileiko translated Babylonian text, and Akhmatova stood in line through hours of cold at the House of Scholars on Millionnoya Street for food. The poem appears in my forthcoming collection, The Emperor of Water Clocks."
—Yusef Komunyakaa

Daytime Begins with a Line by Anna Akhmatova

Yusef Komunyakaa, 1947

The round, hanging lanterns,
lit faces in a window of the Marble Palace
Catherine the Great built for a lover, 
with the Field of Mars below,
snow falling inside two minds. 
One translated Babylonian folktales
so the other could stand in line early morning 
for bread at the House of Scholars.
A touch of dawn was again nightfall,
their room furnished with scattered papers,
rare books, a couch with springs poking out,
a bookcase, a floral pitcher, a china cabinet,
a naked light bulb dangling over a table.
Did the two poets learn it took more
to sing & reflect the burning icy stars  
of poetry where privilege & squalor
lived beneath the same ornate ceiling?
Did they tiptoe from the wintery dusk
of the servants’ wing, follow the pseudo-
Gothic stairs up to the forbidden aromas
of Turkish tobacco, sugar, & exotic teas?
Sometimes, they kept themselves warm
with talk of the empress’s love of horses
as they galloped another century. Then,  
sketches  of their time at the Stray Dog
lit the air around those neoclassic nights,
& maybe they also spoke about “Venice
rotting with gold” near the Arctic Circle,
& anger almost kept them warm on days
they bent over pages of snow-blindness
where tears brought them to laughter.

Copyright © 2014 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 1, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2014 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 1, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa

Poet Yusef Komunyakaa first received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic, a collection of poems built from colloquial speech which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences

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1

The seven o'clock whistle
Made the morning air fulvous
With a metallic syncopation,
A key to a door in the sky---opening
& closing flesh.  The melody
Men & women built lives around,
Sonorous as the queen bee's fat
Hum drawing workers from flowers,
Back to the colonized heart.
A titanous
poem
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears. 
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again