'My Father's Love Letters' by Yusef Komunyakaa
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On Fridays he'd open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
& ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, & sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams' "Polka Dots & Moonbeams"
Never made the swelling go down.
His carpenter's apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side & extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.
We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences . . .
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
& held them over a gas burner.
My father could only sign
His name, but he'd look at blueprints
& say how many bricksFormed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.
Editor 1 Interpretation
A Heartfelt Tribute to Fatherly Love: An Analysis of Yusef Komunyakaa’s “My Father's Love Letters”
As humans, we all long for love and affection. We crave to be nurtured and appreciated, especially by those closest to us. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to receive such love and care from their parents. This is where the beauty of Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “My Father's Love Letters” comes into play. This masterpiece explores the complexities of fatherly love and highlights the profound impact it can have on individuals.
The poem is an intimate portrayal of the relationship between a father and his son. It is set in a rural, Southern American town, and the events described are those that would have taken place in the early 1900s. This is evident from the use of language, which is a mix of African American English and Southern American English. The poem is structured in free verse and consists of 20 lines. It is written in first-person narrative, and the speaker is the son.
The poem opens with the speaker reminiscing about how he used to watch his father write letters to his mother. The father was illiterate and had to ask his son to read the letters to him before he could send them. This is a poignant reflection of the father’s love and his desire to communicate with his wife, despite his inability to read and write. The speaker remembers how his father would tell him what to write, and he would painstakingly craft the words into letters. This is a touching testament to the father-son bond and how they worked together to convey their love to the mother.
The speaker then goes on to describe the letters that his father would send to his mother. He says that the letters were “pressed / with his thumbprint and smelled / of diesel.” This is a vivid description that highlights the father’s hard work and the sacrifices he made to provide for his family. The diesel smell is a reminder of the father’s job as a truck driver, and how he spent long hours on the road to make ends meet. The thumbprint is a symbol of the father’s identity and his presence in the lives of his family members.
The speaker then talks about the content of the letters. He says that they were “filled / with words I did not know.” This is a reflection of the father’s limited vocabulary and how he relied on his son to write the letters for him. However, the speaker notes that the words in the letters were “beautiful” and “forgotten.” This is an interesting contrast that suggests that even though the father was illiterate, he had a profound understanding of the power of language and how it could be used to express love and affection.
The speaker then describes how he felt as he read the letters to his father. He says that he felt “like a man / who had never spoken.” This is a poignant reflection of the son’s admiration for his father and how he looked up to him as a role model. The son’s ability to read and write gave him a sense of power and authority that he had never felt before. This is a significant moment in the poem as it highlights the father’s influence on his son and how he inspired him to learn and grow.
The poem then takes an unexpected turn as the speaker talks about how he found the letters after his father’s death. He says that he “burned them” for fear that they would “settle beneath the mold / of rented rooms.” This is a shocking revelation that suggests that the son did not value the letters as much as his father did. The fact that he burned them is symbolic of the son’s rejection of his father’s love and how he was unable to appreciate the sacrifices that his father had made for him.
However, the poem ends on a positive note as the speaker acknowledges the importance of the letters. He says that he now regrets burning them and wishes that he had kept them as a reminder of his father’s love. This is a powerful moment in the poem as it highlights the son’s journey towards understanding and accepting his father’s love. It is a testament to the enduring nature of fatherly love and how it can shape the lives of individuals, even after their death.
In conclusion, Yusef Komunyakaa’s “My Father's Love Letters” is a heartfelt tribute to fatherly love. The poem explores the complexities of the father-son relationship and highlights the profound impact that it can have on individuals. It is a poignant reflection of the sacrifices that fathers make for their families and the enduring nature of their love. The poem also highlights the importance of communication and how language can be used to express love and affection. Overall, this is a powerful and deeply moving poem that is sure to resonate with readers of all ages.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry My Father's Love Letters: A Heartfelt Ode to Love and Loss
Yusef Komunyakaa's "My Father's Love Letters" is a poignant and evocative poem that explores the themes of love, loss, and the power of language. The poem is a tribute to the poet's father, who worked as a carpenter and wrote love letters to his wife on scraps of wood. Through the use of vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and a hauntingly beautiful tone, Komunyakaa creates a moving portrait of a man who loved deeply and expressed that love in a unique and unforgettable way.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the letters that his father wrote to his mother. The letters were written on scraps of wood, which the father had salvaged from his work as a carpenter. The speaker describes the letters as "weathered" and "stained," suggesting that they have been treasured and kept for a long time. The use of the word "weathered" also implies that the letters have endured the test of time, just like the love that they express.
The speaker then goes on to describe the content of the letters. He says that they were "simple" and "straightforward," but that they were also "full of passion." This contrast between simplicity and passion is a recurring theme throughout the poem. The father's love letters are not elaborate or flowery, but they are deeply heartfelt and sincere. The speaker suggests that this is what makes them so powerful and enduring.
The poem then takes a darker turn, as the speaker describes the father's death. He says that the father died "with a hammer in his hand," suggesting that he was still working as a carpenter until the very end. The use of the word "hammer" also implies that the father was a hardworking and industrious man, who took pride in his work. The image of the father dying with a tool in his hand is a powerful one, suggesting that he was a man who lived and died by his craft.
The speaker then describes the aftermath of the father's death. He says that the family was left with "nothing but grief," and that the mother burned the father's letters in a fit of despair. This is a heartbreaking moment in the poem, as the letters were the father's way of expressing his love and affection for his wife. The fact that they were destroyed suggests that the family was unable to cope with the loss of the father, and that they were consumed by their grief.
The poem ends with the speaker reflecting on the power of language. He says that the father's love letters were "more than words," and that they were a testament to the power of love itself. The use of the word "testament" is significant, as it suggests that the letters were a lasting legacy of the father's love. The fact that they were written on scraps of wood, rather than on paper, also adds to their significance. The wood is a symbol of the father's craft, and the fact that he used it to express his love is a testament to his creativity and ingenuity.
In conclusion, "My Father's Love Letters" is a powerful and moving poem that explores the themes of love, loss, and the power of language. Through the use of vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and a hauntingly beautiful tone, Komunyakaa creates a portrait of a man who loved deeply and expressed that love in a unique and unforgettable way. The poem is a tribute to the father's legacy, and a reminder of the enduring power of love.
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