“Latitudes”

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Aug. 7 2012 6:15 AM

“Latitudes”

Boat in storm.

Image by Witold Krasowski/Thinkstock.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Yusef Komunyakaa read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.      

If I’m not Ulysses, I am
his dear, ruthless half-brother.
Strap me to the mast|
so I may endure night sirens
singing my birth when water
broke into a thousand blossoms
in a landlocked town of the South,
before my name was heard
in the womb-shaped world
of deep sonorous waters.
Storms ran my ship to the brink,
& I wasn’t myself in a kingdom
of unnamed animals & totem trees,
but never wished to unsay my vows.
From the salt-crusted timbers
I could only raise a battering ram
or cross, where I learned God
is rhythm & spores. If I am
Ulysses, made of his words
& deeds, I swam with sea cows
& mermaids in a lost season,
ate oysters & poison-berries
to approach the idea of death
tangled in the lifeline’s slack
on that rolling barrel of a ship,
then come home to more than just
the smell of apples, the heavy oars
creaking the same music as our bed.

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Yusef Komunyakaa's new book is Warhorses.

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