The African Burial Ground

By Yusef Komunyakaa b. 1947 Yusef Komunyakaa
They came as Congo, Guinea, & Angola,
   feet tuned to rhythms of a thumb piano.
      They came to work fields of barley & flax,

livestock, stone & slab, brick & mortar,
   to make wooden barrels, some going
      from slave to servant & half-freeman.

They built tongue & groove— wedged
   into their place in New Amsterdam.
      Decades of seasons changed the city

from Dutch to York, & dream-footed
   hard work rattled their bones.
      They danced Ashanti. They lived

& died. Shrouded in cloth, in cedar
   & pine coffins, Trinity Church
      owned them in six & a half acres

of sloping soil. Before speculators
   arrived grass & weeds overtook
      what was most easily forgotten,

& tannery shops drained there.
   Did descendants & newcomers
      shoulder rock & heave loose gravel

into the landfill before building crews
   came, their guitars & harmonicas
      chasing away ghosts at lunch break?

Soon, footsteps of lower Manhattan
   strutted overhead, back & forth
      between old denials & new arrivals,

going from major to minor pieties,
   always on the go. The click of heels
      the tap of a drum awaking the dead.

Source: Poetry (March 2014).

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2014
 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, Death, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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