The Relic

A new poem

by Yusef Komunyakaa
In Saint Helena darkness falls into a window.
Napoleon tells the doctor to cut out his heart
& send it to the empress, Marie-Louise,

but not one word said about his penis.
Had an auctioneer or bibliophile known
the weight or the true cost of infamy?

After his body shipped home for burial
in a great hall of clocks & candelabra
few could reign over imperial silence.

One was Vignali, paid silver forks, knives,
& 100,000 francs to curate the funeral,
whose manservant, Ali, confessed the deed.

Now, we ask time to show us the keepsake,
to let us see the proof in blue morocco
& velvet locked in a glass case.

I wonder if the urologist in Englewood,
New Jersey, wrapped it in raw silk
& placed it as a talisman under his bed.

Or if it became a study for a master of clones
rehearsing doxology & transubstantiation,
not even a murmur covered by swanskin.

It’s a hint of the imagination awakened,
a shoelace, a dried-up fig or seahorse
awaiting the gallop of soundless waves.

Yusef Komunyakaa’s recent books of poetry include Warhorses, The Chameleon Couch, and Testimony, A Tribute to Charlie Parker. His plays, performance art, and libretti have been performed internationally.

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