In The Chameleon Couch, Yusef Komunyakaa toys with character and voice with the shape-shifting skill of a best-selling novelist working under several pseudonyms. Through first-person narration, he tells enough stories to fill a hopping dance floor: a fine lady, an aging man, a territorial ghost, a street urchin, an occasional drag queen. In the crowd of voices, Komunyakaa’s own might get lost except for its quietness. Like most forms of fiction, the characters of The Chameleon Couch provide distractions from a painful past, from memories that threaten to pierce the pageantry with intense sorrow. During moments of slightly-reluctant joy, questions appear. “Even the bedazzled brute knows/ when sunlight falls through leaves/ across honed knives on the table./ If we can see it push shadows/ aside, growing closer, are we less broken?” Near the end of the collection, Komunyakaa writes, “How can the moon still be in the sky?/ How does love live past this U-turn/ in a city’s wild heart?” Difficult but necessary questions for anyone finally pushing past a long period of personal tragedy.
The reverence and gravity of so many of the poems in this collection can be overwhelming for a light-hearted reader, but the author uses love to buoy the spirits. Love runs defiantly through nearly every poem and provides a good buffer between the serious themes that take up the bulk of the book and the sillier poems that would otherwise seem out of place. The closing lines of the collection achieve artful dignity, and a heard-earned smile: “The older I get/ the quicker Christmas comes,/ but if I had to give up the heavenly/ taste of Guinness dark, I couldn’t/ live another goddamn day. Darling,/ you can chisel that into my headstone.”
Julie Dill reviews everything in 140 characters or less on Twitter.