ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



my story is / inside a wino’s bottle / the cup blood leaps into

eight-to-the-bar / a man on his knees / facing the golden calf

the silver fish of old lust



Books by Yusef Komunyakaa

  I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head / Dien Cai Dau / Magic City / Neo Vernacular / Thieves of Paradise / Talking Dirty to the Gods

 Pleasure Dome Jazz Poetry Anthology  /  The Second Set  /  Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy

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Blues Chant Hoodoo Revival

By Yusef Komunyakaa

my story is

how deep the heart runs

to hide & laugh

with your hands

over your blank mouth

face behind the mask

talking in tongues

something tearing

feathers from a crow

that screams from the furnace

the black candle

in a skull

sweet pan of meat


               let’s pour the river’s rainbow

               into our stone water jars

               bad luck isn’t red flowers

               crashed under jackboots


your story is

a crippled animal

dragging a steel trap

across desert sand

a bee’s sting inside your heart

& its song of honey

in my groin

a factory of blue jays

in honey locust leaves

wet pages of smoke

like a man

deserting his shadow

in dark woods

the dog that limps away

& rotten fruit on the trees


this story is

the speaking skull

on the mantelpiece

the wingspan of a hawk

at the edge of a coyote’s cry

the seventh son’s mojo hands

holding his life together

with a black cat bone

the six grandfathers

& spider woman

the ghost dance vision

deer that can’t

stand for falling

wunmonije witch doctor

backwater blues

juju man

a silk gown on the floor

a black bowl

on a red lacquered table


because it’s true


               let’s pour starlight

               from our stone water jars

               pain isn’t just red flowers

               crushed under jackboots


my story is

inside a wino’s bottle

the cup blood leaps into


a man on his knees

facing the golden calf

the silver fish of old lust

mama hoodoo

a gullah basket

woven from your hair

love note from the madhouse


naming the shape

of things to come

old murder weapons

strings of piano wire


               let’s pour the night

               into our stone isn’t red flowers

               this song isn’t red flowers

               crushed under silence


our story is

a rifle butt

across our heads

arpeggio of bowed grass

among glass trees

where the kick down doors

& we swan-dive from

the brooklyn bridge

a post-hypnotic suggestion

a mosaic membrane

skin of words

mirrors shattered

in roadhouses

in the gun-barrel night

how a machine moves

deeper into piles

of bones

the way we

crowd at the foot

of the gallows

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Conversations with Yusef Komunyakaa

Edited by Shirley A. James Hanshaw

Conversations with Yusef Komunyakaa brings together over two decades of interviews and profiles with one of America’s most prolific and acclaimed contemporary poets. Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1947) describes his work alternately as “word paintings” and as “music,” and his affinity with the visual and aural arts is amply displayed in these conversations. The volume also addresses the diversity and magnitude of Komunyakaa’s literary output. His collaborations with artists in a variety of genres, including music, dance, drama, opera, and painting have produced groundbreaking performance pieces. Throughout the collection, Komunyakaa’s interest in finding and creating poetry across the artistic spectrum is made manifest.

For his collection Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, 1977-1989, Komunyakaa became the first African American male to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Through his work he provides keen insight into life’s mysteries from seemingly inconsequential and insignificant life forms (“Ode to the Maggot”) to some of the most compelling historical and life-altering events of our time, such as the Vietnam War (“Facing It”). Influenced strongly by jazz, blues, and folklore, as well as the classical poetic tradition, his poetry comprises a riveting chronicle of the African American experience.

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 3 April 2010




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