Yellow Dog Café

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)
More Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa