Joy, use me like a whore.
Turn me inside out like Donne
Desired God to do with him.
Show me some muscle,
Sunlight on black stone.
Coldcock me about the head
Till I moan like a bell, low
As the one Goya could hear
Through the walls of
Quinta del Sordo.
Tie me up to the stocks those Puritans
Handled so well in Boston streets.
Don’t let me down. I beg
You to use all your know-how
In one throttle. Please, good God,
Put everything into your swing.
Well, now, here’s a poem that should stop you from whatever else you’re doing to listen hard and well. For Komunyakaa, peaceful contentment has nothing to do with joy. Satisfaction is pallid compared with the fresh, high experience of ecstasy. He’s got to be made new, compelled to feel alive. “Ecstatic” is a prayer, consisting not of pieties but of passionate pleas: “Use me,” “Turn me inside out,” “Coldcock me,” “Tie me up.”
And here’s a real lesson for writers, whether students or professionals. Komunyakaa’s language and his rhythms are new, but the matter of “Ecstatic” is as old as time. “Jacob and the Angel” is the biblical story of a man who emerges wounded but renewed from a wrestling match with a divine power. Marianne Moore (1888-1972) saw that “satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy.” And John Donne (1572-1631) insisted, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you/ As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend.” Donne prayed for the true faith, Komunyakaa for ecstasy. Perhaps they’re one and the same.
Distinguished Professor, English