Talking Dirty to the Gods

Talking Dirty to the Gods

by Yusef Komunyakaa

Paperback(First Edition)

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A daredevil poetic achievement from a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Yusef Komunyakaa's Talking Dirty to the Gods was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award

. . . A god isn't worth

A drop of water in the hell of his good

Imagination, if we can't curse

Sunsets & threaten to forsake him

In his storehouse of belladonna,

Tiger hornets, & snakebites.

—from "Meditations in a Swine Yard"

No turn in any life cycle is taboo as Yusef Komunyakaa examines the primal rituals shared by insects, animals, human beings, and deities in Talking Dirty to the Gods. From "Hearsay" to "Heresy," these 132 poems, each consisting of four quatrains, are framed by innuendo and lively satire. Komunyakaa looks to nature and configures his own paradigm, in which an event as commonplace as the jewel wasp laying an egg in a cockroach becomes every bit as grand as Zeus's infidelity. The formally rigorous collection is itself a design for a systematic cosmos, a world compressed but abundant in surprise and delight.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374527938
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/12/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.34(d)

About the Author

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, in 1947. His books of poems include Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. He is a professor in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.

Read an Excerpt



Yes, they say if you shave a monkey
You'll find a pragmatist, the president
Of a munitions plant, a tobacco tycoon,
Or a manufacturer of silicone breasts

Who owns a medieval château
Decorated with Picasso's Weeping Women
& Madonna's underwear. Disguised
In silver-winged motorcycle boots,

He plucks a guitar with his teeth
& teaches the peacock songs to draw the hawk
To its nest. Injected with enough steroids
To supernova into an overnight

Star, he's the sperm bank's
Most valuable donor. But contrary
To what you may have heard, this
Bellerophon, he isn't a great lover.

Homo Erectus

After pissing around his gut-level
Kingdom, he builds a fire & hugs
A totem against his chest.
Cheetahs pace the horizon

To silence a grassy cosmos
Where carrion birds sing
Darkness back from the hills.
Something in the air, quintessence or rancor,

Makes a langur bash the skull
Of another male's progeny.
The mother tries to fight him off,
But this choreographer for Jacob

& the Angel knows defeat
Arrives in an old slam dance
& applied leverage—the Evening Star
In both eyes, something less than grace.

Utetheisa Ornatrix
the First Goddess

Mottled with eyes, she's a snag
Of silk from a blood orange
Kimono. This moth, a proto-
Goddess, flits about as if grafted

To an uneasy moment. A little machine
Inside, she coaxes every male to deposit
Sperm, & weighs each with an unholy
Exactitude. She can correct

A mistake with metabolic
Absolution. Only the biggest is
Fertilized, & all the others grow
Into nutrients for her. Food

Defines them. Otherwise,
They depend on promiscuous
Wings to beat till their world
Turns into light & sap.

The Centaur

Shape-changer caught in the middle
Of rehearsal, here between beast
& man, like a young Chiron,
You pretend birthright,

Hoping Atalanta's arrow
Finds you on a lost path
In bloom. Yes, sometimes,
You can be loony as a drunken

Stunt man in Paradise, a bit
Of Theocritus's sad metaphysics
In your bones. One half tortures
The other for the romantic songs

Crooned at sunset. Unholy
Need & desire divide the season,
As you eat sugar from a nymph's palm,
Before she mounts & rides you into a man.

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