1051: Venus's Flytraps

1051: Venus's Flytraps

1051: Venus's Flytraps


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Some poems have a hold on us, their lines haunt, like the chorus from a favorite song. They cling to the mind like burrs. I’ve said them to myself lying motionless in bed at night, and while tying my shoes in the morning. They keep giving; they console when I need them to and anchor me in the familiar when all feels adrift. In music, we call them earworms.

I’ve been known to spontaneously recite from memory poems that hooked in me. I do this at family gatherings, at dinner parties in between courses and literary events. Reading poems aloud is my way of promoting the art. They contain a magic that cannot be experienced solely on the page. And I want to share it.

If we are friends, you have heard me recite one such poem more than once. I am drawn to it because it is one of the first poems that artfully validated my existence as the child of a single mother. Like the speaker in the poem, I was wild. I walked my neighborhood unsupervised, seeking adventure. I ventured alone. In parks, in vacant lots, down alleyways, my body roamed under a tenderness of seeing, which gave me access to the known and unknown.

Today’s poem celebrates that prescient nature of children, and their ever-widening instinct, which perceives beyond the everyday surface of things.

by Yusef Komunyakaa

I am five,
    Wading out into deep
        Sunny grass,
Unmindful of snakes
    & yellowjackets, out
        To the yellow flowers
Quivering in sluggish heat.
    Don’t mess with me
        ‘Cause I have my Lone Ranger 
Six-shooter. I can hurt
    You with questions
        Like silver bullets.
The tall flowers in my dreams are
    Big as the First State Bank,
        & they eat all the people
Except the ones I love.
    They have women’s names,
        With mouths like where 
Babies come from. I am five.
    I’ll dance for you 
        If you close your eyes. No
Peeping through your fingers.
    I don’t supposed to be 
        This close to the tracks.
One afternoon I saw 
    What a train did to a cow.
        Sometimes I stand so close
I can see the eyes
    Of men hiding in boxcars.
        Sometimes they wave
& holler for me to get back. I laugh
    When trains make the dogs
        Howl. Their ears hurt.
I also know bees
    Can’t live without flowers. 
        I wonder why Daddy
Calls Mama honey.
    All the bees in the world
        Live in little white houses
Except the ones in these flowers.
    All sticky & sweet inside.
        I wonder what death tastes like.
Sometimes I toss the butterflies
    Back into the air.
        I wish I knew why
The music in my head
    Makes me scared.
        But I know things 
I don’t supposed to know.
    I could start walking
        & never stop.
These yellow flowers 
    Go on forever.
        Almost to Detroit.
Almost to the sea.
    My mama says I’m a mistake.
        That I made her a bad girl.
My playhouse is underneath 
    Our house, & I hear people
        Telling each other secrets.

“Venus’s-Flytraps” by Yusef Komunyakaa from PLEASURE DOME: NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS © 2004 Yusef Komunyakaa. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.