The Story of a Coat
by Yusef Komunyakaa

copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa

We talked about Baroness Pannonica
driving her Silver Pigeon to the Five Spot
to chauffeur Monk home. I was happy
not to talk football, the inventory of skulls
in a cave in Somalia, the democratic vistas
of the Cedar Tavern, or about Spinoza.
We were saying how the legs go first
& then from the eyes mystery is stolen.
I said how much I miss Bill Matthews,
that sometimes at the Village Vanguard,
Fez, or Small’s, especially when some cat
steals a riff out of Prez’s left back pocket,
I hear his Cincinnati laugh. Then our gaze
snagged on a green dress shifting the light.
If you’d asked me, I couldn’t have said why
I knew jasmine from the silence of Egypt,
or how water lives only to remember fire.
As we walked out of the sanctuary of garlic,
chive, onion, mushroom, & peppery dough,
we agreed Rahsaan could see rhythm
when he blew wounded cries of night hawks
at daybreak. The heat of the pizza parlor
followed us to the corner, & two steps later
I remembered the scent of loneliness
in my coat left draped over the chair.
I had fallen in love with its cut,
how it made me walk straighter.
When I passed the young James Dean
coming out the door with my blue-gray coat
balled up in his arms, I didn’t stop him.
I don’t know why. I just stood there
at the table. But, David, years after
I circled the globe, I’m still ashamed
of memories that make me American
as music made of harmony & malice.