The Shortest Night

By Yusef Komunyakaa b. 1947 Yusef Komunyakaa
I went into the forest searching
for fire inside pleading wood,
but I can’t say for how long
I was moored between worlds.
I heard a magpie’s rumination,
but I don’t know if its wings
lifted the moon or let it drift
slow as a little straw boat
set ablaze on a winding river.
I learned the yellow-eyed wolf
is a dog & a man. A small boy
with a star pinned to his sleeve
was hiding among thorn bushes,
or it was how the restless dark
wounded the pale linden tree
outside a Warsaw apartment.
Night crawls under each stone
quick as a cry held in the throat.
All I remember is my left hand
was holding your right breast
when I forced my eyes shut.
Then I could hear something
in the room, magnanimous
but small, half outside & half
inside, no more than a song—
an insomniac’s one prophecy
pressed against the curtains,
forcing the ferns to bloom.

Source: Poetry (September 2010).


This poem originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2010
 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Time & Brevity, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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