Yellow Dog Café

By Yusef Komunyakaa b. 1947 Yusef Komunyakaa
In a cerulean ruckus
Of quilts, we played house   
Off the big room where
They laughed & slowdragged   
Weekends. The eagle flies
On Friday. The jukebox pulsed
A rainbow through the papery walls.   
We were paid a dollar to guard   
Each other. I was eight
& S. C. Mae fourteen,
As we experimented with
The devil. Mill workers
Changed money in the briny   
Glow of bootleg, overpowered   
By the smell of collards, catfish
& candied yams. Granddaddy Gabriel   
Worked the cash register
Beside his second wife, Rosie   
Belle. I heard my mother
& father laugh like swimmers   
Underwater. A raw odor
Of lilies & sweat filled the room;   
My cousin’s hands moved over me   
Smooth & tough as a blues guitar.   
Somebody swore they saw   
A silhouette with a gasoline can   
The night S. C. Mae ran away   
With a woman’s husband.   
For weeks they sifted ashes   
But the gutted studs & braces   
Only leaned against the wind,   
Weak as a boy & girl entwined   
On the floor. That June
Granddaddy drove a busload   
Up north: the growers paid him
A dollar a day for each pair of hands.   
He wanted to rebuild those nights,   
Their circle of blurred cards.
The bus grunted between orchards,   
& by late August I had enough   
Fire-blackened nickels & dimes
To fill a sock, but only a few pickers   
Came back after a season of wine-stained   
Greenbacks sewn inside coats
& taped to the soles of their feet.

Yusef Komunyakaa, “Yellow Dog Café” from Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)

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Poet Yusef Komunyakaa b. 1947

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Living, Activities, Home Life, Relationships, Coming of Age, Jobs & Working

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Yusef  Komunyakaa


In his poetry, Yusef Komunyakaa weaves together the elements of his own life in short lines of vernacular to create complex images of life in his native Louisiana and the jungles of Vietnam. From his humble beginnings as the son of a carpenter, Komunyakaa has traveled far to become a scholar, professor, and prize-winning poet. In 1994, he claimed the Pulitzer Prize and the $50,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his Neon . . .

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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Living, Activities, Home Life, Relationships, Coming of Age, Jobs & Working

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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