Last of the Monkey Gods

Yusef Komunyakaa

copyright ©2012

The moon temple ghosts, swinging on heavy doors.
They ride rabid dogs in the alleys of ill repute.
They decipher the language of crows at dawn
in ancient trees, the blueness of a god’s skin.
They tiptoe power lines, rope bridges around the city.
They throw stones at the ambassador’s sedan.
When afternoon prayers begin, they grown silent,
Lying in each other’s arms, dreaming of clemency.

The monkeys are no rounding up street boys.
At least, at first, it seems this is true, but in no time
The boys learn to single out a monkey in the throng
& wrestle him to the ground. He may try to bite
& to scratch, to howl, & cry ceremoniously, to plead
with the one word he knows, but then the fight
goes out of him when the rest of his great clean
returns to jabbering & the sacred picking of lice.

The boys zap him with a small laser gun.
A garnet of mute bells is tossed into the dust,
& chants go aeons back to the beginning & die.
The fearless illumination goes out of his eyes.
The boys tag him. He rises to wander freely.
As naked unholiness crawls into the night,
they’re wrestled one by one to the ground
& castrated for the music of coins jangling in a pocket.

Notes on the Poem

This week, we celebrate our 2021 Lifetime Recognition Award Recipient, Yusef Komunyakaa with “Last of the Monkey Gods,” a poem from his 2012 Griffin-shortlisted collection, The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). “Like the chameleon poem described by Keats, Komunyakaa draws in his work on a deep well of empathetic imagination, peopling his poems with an array of characters for whom ‘truth’ takes on wildly different hues. His poems tell a story, too, about the synthesis of disparate influences: the Southern idiom of Bogalusa, Louisiana where he grew up harmonises in them with a literary language seasoned by a lifetime’s vast and attentive reading,” writes Griffin Trustee Sarah Howe in her powerful tribute to Komunyakaa. In an exclusive Griffin interview, Komunyakaa answers Howe’s brilliant questions on a literary career that spans several decades and that keeps evolving. Stay tuned for this week’s release on our website and social media channels!

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