Orpheus at the Second Gate of Hades, by Yusef Komunyakaa
By Yusef Komunyakaa
from the New Yorker
My lyre has fallen & broken
but I have my little tom-toms.
LOok, do you see those crows
perched on the guardhouse?
I don’t wish to speak of omens
but sometimes it’s hard to guess.
Life has been good the past few years.
I know all seven songs of the sparrow
& feel lucky to be alive. I woke up at 2:59
this morning, reprieved because I fought
dream-catchers & won. I’ll place a stone
in my mouth & go down there again,
& if I meet myself mounting the stairs
it won’t be teh same man descending.
Doubt has walked me to the river’s edge
before. I may be ashamed but I can’t forget
how to mourn & praise on the marimba.
I shall play till the day’s golden machinery
shops between the known & unknown.
The place was a funeral pyre for the young
who died before knowing the thirst of man
or woman. Furies with snakes in their hair
wept. Tantalus ate the pears & sipped wine
in a dream, as the eyes of a vulture
poised over Tityus’ liver. I could see
Ixion strapped to a gyrating wheel
& Sisyphus on his rounded stone.
I shall stand again before Proserpine
& King Pluto. When it comes to defending love,
I can make a lyre drag down the moon & stars
but it’s still hard to talk of earthly things–
ordinary men killing ordinary men,
women & children. I don’t remember
exactly what I said at the ticket office
my first visit here, but I do know it grew
ugly. The classical allusions didn’t
make it any easier. I played a tune
that owrked its way into my muscles
& I knew I had to speak of what I’d seen
before the serpent drew back its head.
I saw a stall filled with human things, an endless
list of names, a hill of shoes, a room of suitcases,
tagged to nowhere, eyeglasses, toothbrushes,
baby shoes, dentures, ads for holiday spas,
& a whide roll of thick cloth woven of living hair.
If I never possessed these reed flutes
& drums, if my shadow stops kissing me
because of what I have witnessed,
I shall holler to you through my bones,
I promise you.