Dead Reckoning III

They work fingers to bone & borrow
smudged paper, then make promises
to family, unmerciful gods, the unborn.
Some eat a favorite meal three times
in a row. Others partake only a pinch
of soil before boarding half-broken boats
& rubber rafts — half of the young women
big with life inside them, flesh & blood
for daydreams of the Arabian nights,
as makeshift charts & constellations
work their way through war & rumors
of war. The smugglers count their loot.
Hard winds rattle gongs over sea salt
till the rusty engines die, & cries alert
mermaid sirens as pirated schooners
adrift under a mute sky rock to & fro,
& the fight goes out of the few alive.
Their loved ones & friends, lost folk
songs, mountains & valleys, all left
behind. Searchlights spot the dead
hugging the living, & draglines raise
only those who were braver than us.
The lucky ones stumble out of stupor,
tried by raging water beneath black
skies, listening to the albatross talk.

More Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa