The Sealey Challenge: Night Animals

Yusef Komunyakaa's NIGHT ANIMALS, illustrated by Rachel Bliss, set against a setting sun hidden by tall yellow flowers.
Night Animals

Yusef Komunyakaa’s Night Animals, with its often-jarring art by surrealist Rachel Bliss, is strange and elegant and sometimes frightful, an exploration of the beasts of the darkness, for good and for ill, fantastical and earthly.

Komunyakaa balances a careful mixture of naturalistic poetry, built around explorations of very real beasts of our world (including humans), with fantastical scenes. But whether real or fantastical, Komunyakaa’s creatures all explore this world of ours. Beasts pad through the pages of Night Animals, from hunters to hunted, each allowed their moment to shine.

Humans are here, too, for all their good and all their evil and all their banality: two men dancing, a nude in a window, people who can’t sleep, the KKK out for some cross burning, all meander through. In “Nightriders,” where the KKK show up, this very real piece of American terrorism takes on an almost fantastical quality, with the horsemen of the apocalypse, and with myth a suffocating presence.

Bliss’s illustrations can at times be jarring: hers is surrealist work, and can be startling to see. But Komunyakaa balances the real and the fantastical, and generally, Bliss’s art works in concert with his words, offering windows in worlds that may or may quite exist.

Night Animals is an elegant chapbook, an exploration of the beauty and the danger and the community of the night, and of the creatures—animal and human, real and fantastical—that call it home. It is very much a book to be savored.

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