Monthly Archives: May 2017

Monday’s Verse 5/30/2017

The man needs no introduction. -ed.

CALIFORNIA POEM

There’s trouble on the mountain
And the valley’s full of smoke
There’s crying on the mountain
And again the same heart broke.

The lights are on past midnite
The curtains closed all day
There’s trouble on the mountain
The valley people say.

-Johnny Cash (1932-2003)

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Monday’s Verse 5/15/2017

Dear readers,

before you comment, yes, I know I am the worst. Sorry for missing yet another week of spring. Yesterday I was driving a decent part of the time; I’m sure we can all agree that weekly poetry group reading does not justify the use of a smart phone while traveling at 75 mph on America’s worst piece of concrete. I have enough coordination problems simply trying to manage the steering wheel with one hand and the flipping off of truck drivers with the other.

Well, I arrived home to a peaceful house and a new magazine with a new Yusef Komunyakaa poem, so it was a fulfilling poetry afternoon after all. You remember Yusef Komunyakaa, right? He’s the one of "Love in a Time of War" from 9/21/2005, and "The African Burial Ground" from 2/15/2016. He’s the one whose name is an anagram of "Make a funk, you say?" He’s the one I discovered in a grad school contemporary american poetry class, the one who I recently claimed teaches at IU (when in fact, the New Yorker contributor page tells me he teaches at NYU).

This is a cool poem about current times, filtered through the musical memories of a character referred to as "Old School." There are so many good jazz, blues, and soul references here. I thought it might be fun if readers pick one out and talk about their personal connection to it–some tiny insight into your soul’s soundtrack. I’ll go first.

Late in the poem he talks about the Church of Coltrane, of which I’ll consider myself a smorgasboard member. I can’t remember the first time I listened to his live take on "My Favorite Things," but I can remember that it blew my little mind. I’m pretty sure I got my first Coltrane album via a pirated tape, December 1994. It was the reissued Giant Steps, with outtakes, that made it seem the album just went on in endless variations…never quite beginning and never quite ending. Shortly after that I moved to Pittsburgh, and I’m guessing it was at Jerry’s in Squirrel Hill that I picked up a "Greatest Hits vol. 3" that had "My Favorite Things" on it. It has come to be one of my… favorite things. He first recorded it on a studio album in 1961, but most people are familiar with the slightly faster take from the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival. How did he manage to bring a sinister, obsessive-compulsive edge to a nice song from a pretty musical? I don’t know, but I can no longer think of it in any other way.

Also, this poem kicks ass. Enjoy, -ed.

THE SOUL’S SOUNDTRACK

When they call him Old School
he clears his throat, squares
his shoulders, & looks straight
into their lit eyes, saying,
"I was born by the damn river
& I’ve been running ever since."
An echo of Sam Cooke hangs
in bruised air, & for a minute

the silence of fate reigns over
day & night, a tilt of the earth
body & soul caught in a sway
going back to reed & goatskin,
back to trade winds locked
inside an "Amazing Grace"
that will never again sound
the same after Charleston,

South Carolina, & yes, words
follow the river through pine
& oak, muscadine & redbud,
& the extinct Lord God bird
found in an inventory of green
shadows longing for the scent
of woe & beatitutde, taking root
in the mossy air of some bayou.

Now Old School can’t stop
going from a sad yes to gold,
into a season’s bloomy creed,
& soon he only hears Martha
& the Vandellas, their dancing
in the streets, through a before
& after. Mississippi John Hurt,
Ma Rainey, Sleepy John Estes,

Son House, Skip James, Joe
Turner, & Sweet Emma,
& he goes till what he feels
wears out his work boots
along the sidewalks, his life
a fist of coins in a coat pocket
to give to the recent homeless
up & down these city blocks.

He knows "We Shall Overcome"
& anthems of the flower children
which came after Sister Rosetta,
Big Mama Thornton, & Bo Diddly.
Now the years add up to a sharp
pain in his left side on Broadway,
but the Five Blind Boys of Alabama
call down an evening mist to soothe.

He believes to harmonize is
to reach, to ascend, to query
ego & hold a note till there’s
only a quiver of blue feathers
at dawn, & a voice goes out
to return as a litany of mock
orange & sweat, as we are sewn
into what we came crying out of,

& when Old School declares,
"You can’t doo-wop a cappella
& let your tongue touch an evil
while fingering a slothful doubt
beside the Church of Coltrane,"
he has traversed the lion’s den
as Eric Dolphy plays a fluted
solo of birds in the pepper trees.

-5/15/2017

Monday’s Verse 5/1/2017

Readers,

well, I blew it last week, what with the last week of national poetry month, and Shakespeare’s birthday (1564-1616) falling on a Monday. My friend Adam probably said it best via Twitter, "His passport accessed all worlds: from fools to kings, profane to profound, & comedy to tragedy. The best. Ever." But I was too busy performing the profane and mundane, yes, likely in the guise of the fool, to get my weekly missive out in time. My apologies, Misters S.

I’m certain we’ve read the below poem once before, and I’m pretty sure we’ve read it twice. But it’s too tempting for today, what with its mention of the new month, and its kind-of-the-opposite-of-carpe diem ethos. The man knew his way around end-rhyme, that’s for sure. Enjoy, and enjoy all your summer days! -ed.

SONNET 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.