NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 54

This limp and in-betweenness of Legba, his door tending and dusky mystery, are qualities essential to the work of Komunyakaa. In his prose collection, Blue Notes, Komunyakaa writes about his poetry process, “Working back up through the poem, listing all the possible closures, I search for a little door I can leave ajar.” + When I first set out to study, really study, Komunyakaa’s poems, I thought I was the only one who had made this connection between Komunyakaa and what I’ll call ALegba Poetics — but then, with research, I came across Nathaniel Mackay and Keith Cartwright also reading Komunyakaa through this Legba lens. And Komunyakaa’s gorgeous Ploughshares (spring, 1997) introduction entitled “Crossroads” where he writes of the “cult of Legba” and suggests that the characteristics of Legba (dualism, shape-changing, navigation through many worlds at once) strengthen the creative quest. What I find moving is that we came to Legba separately — informed, in my case, by the language, cosmology, and values of Komunyakaa’s work. Legba is helpful when I read “Requiem,” a poem in which Komunyakaa responds to the nightmare both induced and revealed by Hurricane Katrina. We see the conjuring of a blurred body — one in which human anatomy is inextricable from the land’s. Similarly, the human condition and history are insinuated in the description of the Louisiana landscape. Take this excerpt from the poem’s beginning, for example: “search for [the] little door” 52 + So, when the strong unholy high winds whiplashed over the sold-off marshlands eaten back to a sigh of salt-water, the Crescent City was already shook down to her pilings, her floating ribs, her spleen & backbone left trembling in her Old World facades & postmodern lethargy…