Islands

By Yusef Komunyakaa b. 1947 Yusef Komunyakaa
For Derek Walcott

An island is one great eye
    gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
    or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
    of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
    of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
    out to where the brain may stumble.

But when a mind climbs down
    from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
    & has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
    remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
    & plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
    filled up with centuries of waiting.

Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
    came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
    before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
    & seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
    across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
    the last words of men buried at sea.

Someone could stand here
    contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
    or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
    The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
    behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
    is to know pig iron & mother wit.

Whoever this figure is,
    he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
    ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
    till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
    fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
    he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
    is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
    & sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
    in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
    born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
    stretching out over the white sand.

Source: Poetry (April 2012).

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2012
 Yusef  Komunyakaa

Biography

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, The Mind, Nature, Animals, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Trees & Flowers

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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