Because I mistrust my head & hands, because I know salt
tinctures my songs, I tried hard not to touch you
even as I pulled you into my arms. Seasons sprouted
& went to seed as we circled the dance with silver cat bells
tied to our feet. Now, kissing you, I am the archheir of second
Because I know twelve ways to be wrong
& two to be good, I was wounded by the final question in the cave,
left side of the spirit level’s quiver. I didn’t want to hug you
into a cross, but I’m here to be measured down to each numbered
A trembling runs through what pulls us to the blood knot.
We hold hands & laugh in the East Village as midnight autumn
shakes the smoke of the Chicago B.L.U.E.S. club from our clothes,
& you say I make you happy & sad. For years I stopped my hands
in midair, knowing fire at the root stem of yes.
I say your name, & another dies in my mouth because I know how
to plead till a breeze erases the devil’s footprints,
because I crave something to sing the blues about. Look,
I only want to hold you this way: a bundle of wild orchids
broken at the wet seam of memory & manna.
"Canticle," excerpted from The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa, published in April 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. All rights reserved.