The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Written in free verse, “Sunday Afternoons” is a relatively short poem of thirty-five lines divided into seven stanzas. The title refers to the day and time of the week when the poet’s parents excluded their children from the family house and locked the doors to ensure their privacy while they had sex. This poem is just one of a number of verse compositions, most of them collected in the volume Magic City, wherein Yusef Komunyakaa explores his and, by extension, the readers’ shared childhood. In this regard, most children have memories of coping with the mystery of forbidden access, of engaging in the frustrated attempt to decode the parental sounds heard on the other side of closed doors.

Using the first-person plural pronoun “we,” the poem is told from the perspective of the poet and his siblings when they are excluded from the monitoring parental presence and left to their own devices. Even in the confines of the family yard, however, the children discover their own innate animal nature by identifying, in the second and third stanzas, with the sometimes wild creatures that cross their field of experience. They become “drunk” on mayhaw juice and terrorize nesting birds. After this exercise of animal spirits and animal cruelty, the children, in the fourth stanza, refocus their attention on the house and their shared realization that there is something going on inside, something to be interpreted solely by auditory evidence. What...

(The entire section is 414 words.)