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.