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What I’ve Been Reading: Yusef Komunyakaa, “Ignis Fatuus” (2004)

From The Best American Poetry: 2004, eds. Lyn Hejinian and David Lehman, pp. 136-137.

Ignis Fatuus

Something or someone. A feeling
among a swish of reeds. A swampy
glow haloes the Spanish moss,
& there’s a swaying at the edge
like a child’s memory of abuse
growing flesh, living on what
a screech owl recalls. Nothing
but a presence that fills up
the mind, a replenished body
singing its way into doubletalk.
In the city, Will o’ the Wisp
floats out of Miles’ trumpet,
leaning ghosts against nighttime’s
backdrop of neon. A foolish fire
can also start this way: before
you slide the key into the lock
& half-turn the knob, you know
someone has snuck into your life.
A high window, a corner of sky
spies on upturned drawers of underwear
& unanswered letters, on a tin box
of luminous buttons & subway tokens,
on books, magazines, & clothes
flung to the studio’s floor,
his sweat lingering in the air.
Years ago, you followed someone
here, in love with breath
kissing the nape of your neck,
back when it was easy to be
at least two places at once.

— Yusef Komunyakaa (2004)
from The New Republic

(Ignis fatuus is Latin for foolish fire, meaning a will-o’-the-wisp or jack-o’-lantern — a ghost or fairy light seen on a dark night, in a bog or marsh, that seems to promise a place to rest, but really only leads the unwary traveler deeper into the mire.)

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