Kevin Young, Valentine

By Sean HillFebruary 14, 2013

Kevin Young, Valentine

KEVIN YOUNG'S POEM, “Song of Smoke” from his third book Jelly Roll: A Blues, takes off with the pronouncement that “To watch you walk / cross the room in your black // corduroys is to see / civilization start—” The sound of that “strut is flint / striking rock,” igniting the fire that spreads through the rest of these short lines with their sharp, hairpin turns. Like the speaker here, I’m no Boy Scout in the face of such flames. We’re both grateful somehow to be almost completely consumed by them even when the flames “threaten” to “burn all // this down.” Here we have danger, vulnerability, and surrender—everything needed for passionate love.

— Sean Hill


Kevin Young, "Song of Smoke"


To watch you walk

cross the room in your black

corduroys is to see

civilization start—

the wish-


of your strut is flint

striking rock—the spark

of a length of cord

rubbed till

smoke starts—you stir

me like coal

and for days smoulder.

I am no more

a Boy Scout and, besides,

could never

put you out—you

keep me on

all day like an iron, out

of habit—

you threaten, brick-

house, to burn

all this down. You leave me

only a chimney.

 [more Valentine's Day poems]

LARB Contributor

Sean Hill is the author of two poetry collections, Blood Ties & Brown Liquor (UGA Press, 2008) and Dangerous Goods, which is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in early 2014. More information can be found at


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