Yes, It Could Be Worse

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Hit play below to hear Yusef Komunyakaa read his poem “Yes, It Could Be Worse” and scroll down for the full text. The poem is featured in MQR’s Summer 2020 issue.

I was not strong as Jean Valjean
though my muscles knew weight & scent
of pine from the green sappy gum
that spring I turned fifteen, & Cousin Ado
shoved pulpwood on my shoulder,
& I rose, stood upright to heave thick wood
on top of the loaded red truck,
not backing away from the hard, silent sun.
Hadn’t I, at twelve, slow-walked
creosoted crossties the edge of our property
line, those three acres of butter
beans, okra, potatoes, sweet corn, greens,
& tomatoes, up to the postholes,
where I danced each crosstie into place
for a long whole week, before
barbed wire rolled off its spool & strung?
Once, I could muscle up
anything I put my mind to, but now I am
standing between a thief
& his shadow, glad to be on two feet.