“The Soul’s Soundtrack”

A Poem by Yusef Komunyakaa

April 14, 2021  By Yusef Komunyakaa
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When they call him Old School
he clears his throat, squares
his shoulders, & looks straight
into their unlit eyes, saying,
“I was born by the damn river
& I’ve been running ever since.”
An echo of Sam Cooke hangs
in bruised air, & for a minute

the silence of Fate reigns over
day & night, a tilt of the Earth
body & soul caught in a sway
going back to reed & goatskin,
back to trade winds locked
inside an “Amazing Grace”
which will never again sound
the same after Charleston,

South Carolina, & yes, words
follow the river through pine
& oak, muscadine & redbud,
& the extinct Lord God bird
found in an inventory of green
shadows longing for the scent
of woe & beatitude, taking root
in the mossy air of some bayou.

Now Old School can’t stop
going from a sad yes to gold,
into a season’s bloomy creed,
& soon he only hears Martha
& the Vandellas, their dancing
in the streets, through a before
& after. Mississippi John Hurt,
Ma Rainey, Sleepy John Estes,

Son House, Skip James, Joe
Turner, & Sweet Emma,
& he goes till what he feels
wears out his work boots
along the sidewalks, his life
a fist of coins in a coat pocket
to give to the recent homeless
up & down these city blocks.

He knows “We Shall Overcome”
& anthems of the flower children
which came after Sister Rosetta,
Big Mama Thornton, & Bo Diddley.
Now, the years add up to a sharp
pain in his left side on Broadway,
but the Five Blind Boys of Alabama
call down an evening mist to soothe.

He believes to harmonize is
to reach, to ascend, to query
ego & hold a note till there’s
only a quiver of blue feathers
at dawn, & a voice goes out
to return as a litany of mock
orange & sweat, as we are sewn
into what we came crying out of,

& when Old School declares,
“You can’t doo-wop a cappella
& let your tongue touch an evil
while fingering a slothful doubt
beside the Church of Coltrane,”
he has traversed the lion’s den
as Eric Dolphy plays a fluted
solo of birds in the peppertrees.

__________________________________

Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth- New and Selected Poems

Excerpted from Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2021 by Yusef Komuyakaa. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux March 16th 2021. Copyright © 2021 by Yusef Komunyakaa All rights reserved.




Yusef Komunyakaa
Yusef Komunyakaa
Yusef Komunyakaa's books of poetry include Taboo, Dien Cai Dau, Neon Vernacular, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize, Warhorses, and The Chameleon Couch. His most recent collection is The Emperor of Water Clocks. His plays, performance art, and libretti have been performed internationally and include Saturnalia, Testimony, and Gilgamesh. He teaches at New York University.








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