Academy of American Poets
View Cart | Log In 
Subscribe | More Info 
Find a Poet or Poem
Advanced Search >
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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...
More >
Want more poems?
Subscribe to our
Poem-A-Day emails.
FURTHER READING
Poems About Work and Money
A Situation for Mrs. Biswas
by Prageeta Sharma
Blues
by Elizabeth Alexander
Coming Close
by Philip Levine
Engines Within the Throne
by Cathy Park Hong
Hay for the Horses
by Gary Snyder
I am the People, the Mob
by Carl Sandburg
i am witness to the threshing of the grain
by John Hoffman
Odd Jobs
by Jericho Brown
On Quitting
by Edgar Guest
One of the Monkeys
by Nicholas Johnson
Personals
by C. D. Wright
Po' Boy Blues
by Langston Hughes
Proximity
by Randall Mann
Song of Myself
by John Canaday
Song of the Shirt
by Thomas Hood
Testament
by Carl Sandburg
The Dance
by Humberto Ak'Abal
The Debt
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
The Eternal City
by Jim Simmerman
The Orange Bears
by Kenneth Patchen
The Telephonist
by Susan Yuzna
The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden
The World Is Too Much With Us
by William Wordsworth
Thinking of Work
by James Shea
Vocation
by Sandra Beasley
Related Prose
Overhand the Hammers Swing: Poems of Work
by Philip Levine
Sponsor a Poet Page | Add to Notebook | Email to Friend | Print

The Whistle

 
by Yusef Komunyakaa

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 puff of steam rose
From the dragon trapped below
Iron, bricks, & wood.
The whole black machine 
Shuddered: blue jays & redbirds
Wove light through leaves
& something dead under the foundation
Brought worms to life.
Men capped their thermoses,
Switched off Loretta Lynn,
& slid from trucks & cars.
The rip saws throttled
& swung out over logs
On conveyer belts.
Daddy lifted the tongs
To his right shoulder . . . a winch
Uncoiled the steel cable
From its oily scrotum;
He waved to the winchman
& iron teeth bit into the pine.
Yellow forklifts darted 
With lumber to boxcars
Marked for distant cities.
At noon, Daddy would walk
Across the field of goldenrod
& mustard weeds, the pollen
Bright & sullen on his overalls.
He'd eat on our screened-in
Back porch---red beans & rice
With hamhocks & cornbread.
Lemonade & peach Jello.

The one o'clock bleat
Burned sweat & salt into afternoon
& the wheels within wheels
Unlocked again, pulling rough boards
Into the plane's pneumatic grip.
Wild geese moved like a wedge
Between sky & sagebrush,
As Daddy pulled the cable
To the edge of the millpond
& sleepwalked cypress logs.
The day turned on its axle
& pyramids of russet sawdust
Formed under corrugated 
Blowpipes fifty feet high.
The five o'clock whistle 
Bellowed like a bull, controlling
Clocks on kitchen walls;
Women dabbed loud perfume
Behind their ears & set tables
Covered with flowered oilcloth.

2

When my father was kicked by the foreman,
He booted him back,
& his dreams slouched into an aftershock
Of dark women whispering
To each other.  Like petals of a black rose
In one of Busby Berkeley's
Oscillating dances in a broken room.  Shadows,
Runagates & Marys.
The steel-gray evening was a canvas
Zigzagged with questions
Curling up from smokestacks, as dusky birds
Brushed blues into a montage
Traced back to L'Amistad & the psychosis
Behind Birth of a Nation.
With eyes against glass & ears to diaphanous doors,
I heard a cornered prayer.

Car lights rubbed against our windows,
Ravenous as snow wolves.
A brick fell into the livingroom like a black body,
& a riot of drunk curses
Left the gladioli & zinnias
Maimed.  Double dares
Took root in night soil.
The whistle boiled
Gutbucket underneath silence
& burned with wrath.
But by then Daddy was with Uncle James
Outside The Crossroad,
Their calloused fingers caressing the .38
On the seat of the pickup;
Maybe it was the pine-scented moonglow
That made him look so young
& faceless, wearing his mother's powder blue
Sunday dress & veiled hat.






From Magic City by Yusef Komunyakaa, published by Wesleyan University Press. Copyright 1992 Yusef Komunyakaa. Used with permission.
Larger TypeLarger Type | Home | Help | Contact Us | Privacy Policy Copyright © 1997 - 2014 by Academy of American Poets.