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Poem: Ode to the Maggot

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You want Yusef Komunyakaa to write your poems for you. A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Komunyakaa has mastered the ability to turn the mundane into memorable. I remember reading this cat in prison wondering how he even conjured up the title “Neon Vernacular” or “Talking Dirty to the Gods.” His latest, “Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth,” gives us some classics. Like this one, “Ode to the Maggot.” The power is in recognizing, always, that the least of us matter. “Little/Master of earth, no one gets to heaven/Without going through you first.” Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

By Yusef Komunyakaa

Brother of the blowfly
& godhead, you work magic
Over battlefields,
In slabs of bad pork

& flophouses. Yes, you
Go to the root of all things.
You are sound & mathematical.
Jesus Christ, you’re merciless

With the truth. Ontological & lustrous,
You cast spells on beggars & kings
Behind the stone door of Caesar’s tomb
Or split trench in a field of ragweed.

No decree or creed can outlaw you
As you take every living thing apart. Little
Master of earth, no one gets to heaven
Without going through you first.


Illustration by R.O. Blechman

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created the Million Book Project, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, ‘‘Felon,’’ explores the post-incarceration experience. In 2019, he won a National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for his article in The Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to aspiring lawyer. Yusef Komunyakaa is the author most recently of ‘‘Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth,’’ to be released in June from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and many other collections. He won the Pulitzer Prize for ‘‘Neon Vernacular’’ in 1994. He teaches at New York University.

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