poem index

Classicalite's National Poetry Month Chapbook

A collection of verse that has inspired jazz...and classical music, too.
Classicalite's National Poetry Month Chapbook
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A Musical Instrument
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806 - 1861
What was he doing, the great god Pan,
 Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat
 With the dragon-fly on the river.

He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
 From the deep cool bed of the river:
The limpid water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
And the dragon-fly had fled away,
 Ere he brought it out of the river.

High on the shore sat the great god Pan
 While turbidly flowed the river;
And hacked and hewed as a great god can,
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
Till there was not a sign of the leaf indeed
 To prove it fresh from the river.

He cut it short, did the great god Pan,
 (How tall it stood in the river!)
Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
Steadily from the outside ring,
And notched the poor dry empty thing
 In holes, as he sat by the river.

'This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan
 (Laughed while he sat by the river),
'The only way, since gods began
To make sweet music, they could succeed.'
Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
 He blew in power by the river.

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
 Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
 Came back to dream on the river.

Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
 To laugh as he sits by the river,
Making a poet out of a man:
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain,—
For the reed which grows nevermore again
 As a reed with the reeds in the river. 
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The Weary Blues
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
     I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
     He did a lazy sway . . .
     He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
     O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
     Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man's soul.
     O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
     "Ain't got nobody in all this world,
       Ain't got nobody but ma self.
       I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
       And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
     "I got the Weary Blues
       And I can't be satisfied.
       Got the Weary Blues
       And can't be satisfied—
       I ain't happy no mo'
       And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
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Untitled
David Meltzer
Art's desire to get it all said
to all who thought him dead
in the joint & beside the point

Art's struggle to sing it all
through jazz warfare & tell
everything he knew in brass
speed rap stir crazy utopia
of muscle chops push it in your face
rough unrelenting grace

fierce Art pitbull clamps down
pulls edges out in time to break through
scream knotty beauty
toe to toe w/ any joe
who thinks they know better

Art tattoos blue needles into moonlight skin
junk light makes mirrors perfect

Art's smoke aches out of wounds

L.A. Art burritos & bebop
black guacamole serge zoots
Central Avenue cat copping

Pepper at Club Alabam
in Lee Young's band
all the chicks & the hatcheck chick
have big eyes for Art's horn
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Water Music
Robert Creeley, 1926 - 2005
The words are a beautiful music.
The words bounce like in water.

Water music,
loud in the clearing

off the boats,
birds, leaves.

They look for a place
to sit and eat—

no meaning,
no point.
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The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
Edward Lear, 1812 - 1888
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
   What a beautiful Pussy you are,
            You are,
            You are!
   What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl,
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried,
   But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
            His nose,
            His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
            The moon,
            The moon,
   They danced by the light of the moon.
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Street Music
Robert Pinsky, 1940

 

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Lost Fugue for Chet
Lynda Hull, 1954
		Chet Baker, Amsterdam, 1988  

A single spot slides the trumpet’s flare then stops
    at that face, the extraordinary ruins thumb-marked
with the hollows of heroin, the rest chiaroscuroed.
    Amsterdam, the final gig, canals & countless

stone bridges arc, glimmered in lamps. Later this week
     his Badlands face, handsome in a print from thirty
years ago, will follow me from the obituary page
     insistent as windblown papers by the black cathedral

of St. Nicholas standing closed today: pigeon shit
     & feathers, posters swathing tarnished doors, a litter
of syringes. Junkies cloud the gutted railway station blocks
     & dealers from doorways call coca, heroina, some throaty

foaming harmony. A measured inhalation, again
     the sweet embouchure, metallic, wet stem. Ghostly,
the horn’s improvisations purl & murmur
     the narrow strasses of Rosse Buurt, the district rife

with purse-snatchers, women alluring, desolate, poised
     in blue windows, Michelangelo boys, hair spilling
fluent running chords, mares’ tails in the sky green
     & violet. So easy to get lost, these cavernous

brown cafés. Amsterdam, & its spectral fogs, its
     bars & softly shifting tugboats. He builds once more
the dense harmonic structure, the gabled houses.
     Let’s get lost. Why court the brink & then step back?

After surviving, what arrives? So what’s the point
     when there are so many women, creamy callas with single
furled petals turning in & upon themselves
     like variation, nights when the horn’s coming

genius riffs, metal & spit, that rich consuming rush
     of good dope, a brief languor burnishing
the groin, better than any sex. Fuck Death.
     In the audience, there’s always this gaunt man, cigarette

in hand, black Maserati at the curb, waiting,
     the fast ride through mountain passes, descending with
no rails between asphalt & precipice. Inside, magnetic
     whispering take me there, take me. April, the lindens

& horse chestnuts flowering, cold white blossoms
     on the canal. He’s lost as he hears those inner voicings,
a slurred veneer of chords, molten, fingering
     articulate. His glance below Dutch headlines, the fall

"accidental" from a hotel sill. Too loaded. What do you do
     at the brink? Stepping back in time, I can only
imagine the last hit, lilies insinuating themselves
     up your arms, leaves around your face, one hand vanishing

sabled to shadow. The newsprint photo & I’m trying
     to recall names, songs, the sinuous figures, but facts
don’t matter, what counts is out of pained dissonance,
     the sick vivid green of backstage bathrooms, out of

broken rhythms—and I’ve never forgotten, never—
     this is the tied-off vein, this is 3 a.m. terror
thrumming, this is the carnation of blood clouding
     the syringe, you shaped summer rains across the quays

of Paris, flame suffusing jade against a girl’s
     dark ear. From the trumpet, pawned, redeemed, pawned again
you formed one wrenching blue arrangement, a phrase endlessly
     complicated as that twilit dive through smoke, applause,

the pale hunted rooms. Cold chestnuts flowering April
     & you’re falling from heaven in a shower of eighth notes
to the cobbled street below & foaming dappled horses
     plunge beneath the still green waters of the Grand Canal.
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Hymn to the Night
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882
I heard the trailing garments of the Night
     Sweep through her marble halls!
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light
     From the celestial walls!

I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
     Stoop o'er me from above;
The calm, majestic presence of the Night,
     As of the one I love.

I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
     The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
     Like some old poet's rhymes.

From the cool cisterns of the midnight air
     My spirit drank repose;
The fountain of perpetual peace flows there,—
     From those deep cisterns flows.

O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
     What man has borne before!
Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care
     And they complain no more.

Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
     Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
     The best-beloved Night!
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Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness
John Donne, 1572 - 1631
Since I am coming to that Holy room, 
    Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore, 
I shall be made Thy music; as I come 
    I tune the instrument here at the door, 
    And what I must do then, think here before; 

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown 
    Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie 
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown 
    That this is my south-west discovery, 
    Per fretum febris, by these straits to die; 

I joy, that in these straits I see my west; 
    For, though those currents yield return to none, 
What shall my west hurt me?  As west and east 
    In all flat maps—and I am one—are one, 
    So death doth touch the resurrection. 

Is the Pacific sea my home?  Or are 
    The eastern riches?  Is Jerusalem? 
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar? 
    All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them 
    Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem. 

We think that Paradise and Calvary, 
    Christ's cross and Adam's tree, stood in one place; 
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me; 
    As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face, 
    May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace. 

So, in His purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord; 
    By these His thorns, give me His other crown; 
And as to others' souls I preach'd Thy word, 
    Be this my text, my sermon to mine own, 
    "Therefore that He may raise, the Lord throws down."
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Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio
Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
     The cartoonists weep in their beer.
     Ship riveters talk with their feet
     To the feet of floozies under the tables.
A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:
        "I got the blues.
        I got the blues.
        I got the blues."
And . . . as we said earlier:
     The cartoonists weep in their beer.
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Fiddler Jones
Edgar Lee Masters, 1868 - 1950
The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind's in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to "Toor-a-Loor."
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill--only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle--
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.
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Alexander's Feast; or, the Power of Music
John Dryden, 1631 - 1700
A song in honour of St. Cecilia's day, 1697.

'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won   
        By Philip's warlike son—   
    Aloft in awful state   
    The godlike hero sate   
        On his imperial throne; 
  His valiant peers were placed around,   
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound   
  (So should desert in arms be crown'd);   
The lovely Thais by his side   
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride 
In flower of youth and beauty's pride:—   
   Happy, happy, happy pair!   
        None but the brave   
        None but the brave   
  None but the brave deserves the fair! 
   
    Timotheus placed on high   
        Amid the tuneful quire   
With flying fingers touch'd the lyre:   
    The trembling notes ascend the sky   
        And heavenly joys inspire. 
The song began from Jove   
Who left his blissful seats above   
Such is the power of mighty love!   
    A dragon's fiery form belied the god;   
    Sublime on radiant spires he rode 
    When he to fair Olympia prest,   
    And while he sought her snowy breast,   
  Then round her slender waist he curl'd,   
And stamp'd an image of himself, a sovereign of the world.   
  The listening crowd admire the lofty sound; 
  A present deity! they shout around:   
  A present deity! the vaulted roofs rebound:   
        With ravish'd ears   
        The monarch hears,   
        Assumes the god; 
        Affects to nod,  
    And seems to shake the spheres.   
   
The praise of Bacchus then the sweet musician sung,   
    Of Bacchus ever fair and ever young:   
        The jolly god in triumph comes; 
        Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!   
            Flush'd with a purple grace   
            He shows his honest face:   
Now give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes!   
    Bacchus, ever fair and young, 
        Drinking joys did first ordain;   
    Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,   
    Drinking is the soldier's pleasure:   
        Rich the treasure,   
        Sweet the pleasure, 
    Sweet is pleasure after pain.   
   
    Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain;   
        Fought all his battles o'er again,   
And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain!   
    The master saw the madness rise, 
    His glowing cheeks, his ardent eyes;   
    And while he Heaven and Earth defied   
    Changed his hand and check'd his pride.   
        He chose a mournful Muse   
        Soft pity to infuse: 
    He sung Darius great and good,   
        By too severe a fate   
    Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,   
        Fallen from his high estate.   
    And weltering in his blood; 
    Deserted at his utmost need   
    By those his former bounty fed;   
    On the bare earth exposed he lies   
    With not a friend to close his eyes.   
With downcast looks the joyless victor sate, 
        Revolving in his alter'd soul   
            The various turns of chance below;   
        And now and then a sigh he stole,   
            And tears began to flow.   
   
    The mighty master smiled to see  
    That love was in the next degree;   
    'Twas but a kindred sound to move,   
    For pity melts the mind to love.   
        Softly sweet, in Lydian measures   
        Soon he soothed his soul to pleasures. 
    War, he sung, is toil and trouble,   
    Honour but an empty bubble;   
        Never ending, still beginning,   
    Fighting still, and still destroying;   
        If the world be worth thy winning, 
    Think, O think, it worth enjoying:   
        Lovely Thais sits beside thee,   
    Take the good the gods provide thee!   
The many rend the skies with loud applause;   
So Love was crown'd, but Music won the cause.  
    The prince, unable to conceal his pain,   
            Gazed on the fair   
            Who caused his care,   
    And sigh'd and look'd, sigh'd and look'd,   
    Sigh'd and look'd, and sigh'd again:   
  At length with love and wine at once opprest   
  The vanquish'd victor sunk upon her breast.   
   
Now strike the golden lyre again:   
A louder yet, and yet a louder strain!   
Break his bands of sleep asunder 
And rouse him like a rattling peal of thunder.   
        Hark, hark! the horrid sound   
            Has raised up his head:   
            As awaked from the dead   
        And amazed he stares around. 
    Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries,   
        See the Furies arise!   
        See the snakes that they rear   
        How they hiss in their hair,   
    And the sparkles that flash from their eyes! 
        Behold a ghastly band,   
        Each a torch in his hand!   
  Those are Grecian ghosts, that in battle were slain   
            And unburied remain   
            Inglorious on the plain: 
            Give the vengeance due   
            To the valiant crew!   
  Behold how they toss their torches on high,   
      How they point to the Persian abodes   
  And glittering temples of their hostile gods. 
  The princes applaud with a furious joy:   
  And the king seized a flambeau with zeal to destroy;   
        Thais led the way   
        To light him to his prey,   
  And like another Helen, fired another Troy! 
   
            Thus, long ago,   
    Ere heaving bellows learn'd to blow,   
        While organs yet were mute,   
        Timotheus, to his breathing flute   
            And sounding lyre 
Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire.   
    At last divine Cecilia came.   
    Inventress of the vocal frame;   
The sweet enthusiast from her sacred store   
    Enlarged the former narrow bounds, 
    And added length to solemn sounds,   
With Nature's mother-wit, and arts unknown before.   
    Let old Timotheus yield the prize,   
        Or both divide the crown;   
    He raised a mortal to the skies, 
        She drew an angel down!
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Howl, Parts I & II
Allen Ginsberg, 1926 - 1997

For Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking 
     for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
     connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking 
     in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating 
     across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw
     Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs 
     illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
     hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the 
     scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing 
     obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their 
     money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through
     the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo 
     with a belt of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise 
     Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and
     cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in 
     the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, 
     illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns,
     wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of 
     teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon 
     and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, 
     ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from 
     Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of 
     wheels and children brought them down shuddering 
     mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of 
     brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out 
     and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate 
     Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen 
     jukebox, 
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to 
     Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the 
     stoops off fire escapes off windowsills of Empire State out 
     of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and 
     memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of 
     hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and 
     nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on 
     the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of 
     ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and 
     migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak 
     furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad
     yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken
     hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing
     through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and 
     bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at
     their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of
     Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary
     indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in
     supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on
     the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz
     or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to
     converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and
     so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind
     nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of
     poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in
     beards and shorts with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark
     skin passing out incomprehensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the
     narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square
     weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos
     wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten
     Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and
     trembling before the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in
     policecars for committing no crime but their own wild
     cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off
     the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists,
     and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors,
     caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and
     the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their
     semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob
     behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked
     angel came to pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one  
     eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew
     that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does
     nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden
     threads of the craftsman's loom.
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a
     sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the
     bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and
     ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt
     and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the
     sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to
     sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under
     barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen
     night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and
     Adonis of Denver--joy to the memory of his innumerable lays
     of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
     rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt
     waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
     & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, &
     hometown alleys too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams,
     woke on a sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out
     of basements hungover with heartless Tokay and horrors of
     Third Avenue iron dreams & stumbled to unemployment
     offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the
     snowbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open
     to a room full of steamheat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of
     the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon &
     their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at
     the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full
     of onions and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and
     rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame
     under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of
     theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations
     which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas
     dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for
     Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads
     every day for the next decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave
     up and were forced to open antique stores where they thought
     they were growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison
     Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of
     the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of
     the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister
     intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs
     of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and
     walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of
     Chinatown soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free
     beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway
     window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried
     all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot
     smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s
     German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into
     the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of
     colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the
     each other's hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or
     Birmingham jazz incarnation, who drove crosscountry
     seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had
     a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to
     Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver &
     brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find
     out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each
     other's salvation and light and breasts, until the soul
     illuminated its hair for a second, 
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible
     criminals with golden heads and the charm of reality in their
     hearts who sang sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to
     tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the
     black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the
     daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism &
     were left with their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and
     subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of
     the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of
     suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol
     electricity hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy
     pingpong & amnesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong
     table, resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and
     tears and fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of
     the madtowns of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering
     with the echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the
     midnight solitude-bench dolmen-realms of love, dream of life
     a nightmare, bodies turned to stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out
     of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m.
     and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the
     last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental
     furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the
     closet, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little
     bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're
     really in the total animal soup of time--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a
     sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the
     catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through
     images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul
     between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and
     set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping
     with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and
     stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking
     with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform
     to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting
     down here what might be left to say in time come after
     death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn
     shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked
     mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani
     saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their
     own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

 

II

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls
     and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable
     dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys
     sobbing in armies!  Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! 
     Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone
     soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch
     whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of
     war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is
     running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! 
     Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!  Moloch whose
     ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose
     skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless
     Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the
     fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the 
     cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is
     electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter
     of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless
     hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! 
     Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and
     manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a
     consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out
     of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in
     Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton
     treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral
     nations! invincible mad houses granite cocks! monstrous
     bombs! 
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements,
     trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists
     and is everywhere about us! 
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the
     American river! 
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload
     of sensitive bullshit! 
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down
     the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal
     screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! 
     down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the
     holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roofl to
     solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the
     street!
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At the Blue Note
Pablo Medina
for Karen Bentivenga
Sometimes in the heat of the snow
you want to cry out

for pleasure or pain like a bell.
And you wind up holding each other,

listening to the in-between 
despite the abyss at the edge of the table. 

Hell. Mulgrew Miller plays like a big 
bad spider, hands on fire, the piano

trembling like crystal,
the taste and smell of a forest under water.

The bartender made us a drink
with butterfly wings and electric wire. 

Bitter cold outside, big silence, 
a whale growing inside us.
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Jazz Fan Looks Back
Jayne Cortez, 1934 - 2012
I crisscrossed with Monk
Wailed with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah
Wore a flower like Billie
Screamed in the range of Dinah
& scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
                    Jazz at the Philharmonic
					
I cut my hair into a permanent tam
Made my feet rebellious metronomes 
Embedded record needles in paint on paper
Talked bopology talk
Laughed in high-pitched saxophone phrases
Became keeper of every Bird riff
every Lester lick
as Hawk melodicized my ear of infatuated tongues
& Blakey drummed militant messages in
soul of my applauding teeth 
& Ray hit bass notes to the last love seat in my bones
I moved in triple time with Max
Grooved high with Diz
Perdidoed with Pettiford
Flew home with Hamp
Shuffled in Dexter's Deck
Squatty-rooed with Peterson
Dreamed a "52nd Street Theme" with Fats
& scatted "Lady Be Good" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
                    Jazz at the Philharmonic
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Ken Burns poem
Sean Singer

"There’s no such thing as bop music, but there’s such a thing as progress."—Coleman Hawkins

Although jazz’s sepia, acetates, and lacquers have dipped the black into silver nitrate, and are faded little faders, they inflate like lungs. The pink lung, with its tortoiseshell shellac appears to bulge, and its inseam exhales purity, and inhales spoonfuls of tempo. Purity in jazz, sir, is thwarted and unutilized. Two hundred years of minstrels, snapping their red suspenders, corrode and oxidize the air. Mr. Tambo: What kind of a girl was she? Zip: She was highly polished; yes, indeed. Her fadder was a varnish-maker.... You see, that rubber pork chop became something. Bechet’s Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble, from its mold has been heated and mounted face-to-face with a hinge so that the machine opens up facing you. It is not lieder or intermezzo, frozen like trout beneath the flux and ratamacuing of ice. It is not alpine: Eingeschlafen auf der Lauer / Oben ist der alte Ritter.... Through the cracked photos, breaking into creosote, superlatives douse the monoliths: "virtuoso," "genius." But there is a siphoning-off of licking pink jam from the knife: Negativities: the integrated bands, for example, of alcoholics, benzedrine-heads, and junkies, or the deranged catastrophe of Buddy Bolden feeding his hand to a ceiling fan, or the wicks saturated with amphetamines, or Buddy Rich telling the trumpet section of "fuckfaces" that he’d plink them every seven bars like a neutered werewolf. When Coleman Hawkins stood half-nude like a mango in Friedlander’s photo (1956) with his curved man-breasts sweating from It May Not Be True, he appears modern. He is not a manqué nostalgic, an item, logistical. He—lung of aerate, propulsive tub, urgently pumping ninths— is the living demonifuge, ripping through a blanket of vanilla radio. Racial animus, intractable sources, faded scriptures, the pinstripes of the Storyville mudheads, midwives, and the peach tintypes fitted into ladies’ brooches are not jazz. This strategy does not puff the uvula’s blowpipe or bring an axe to the Fat Black Pussycat. Rather, it shufflebucks, pantomimes, and dabs slop with a hankie. Meanwhile, as the onyx rattlesnake of the century slid by 1960, the year the fedora went up the flue, jazz, too, opened like a fire in a woman’s ceremony—it did not end. Ayler had yet to drag the black river into rivulets of need. Unkempt skinny dips, red vinyl seats of the Southern buses, and the vinegar cloud of the trees’ harpsichords were made, too, of a jazz. As the bus ate the road’s tape measure, the ballrooms closed, the Hickory House sewed 52nd Street into a flytrap enmeshed with liquid static. The green river you ignore is realized by the black river growing wings beneath the shoulder blades of the hatchling:— Coleman Hawkins who morphs with alular quills into a hawk. Dark patagial marks on underwings, present on all ages and races, conjured shadows beyond the last section of the long film. You’re afraid of listening to this lady? He, too, with parade float head, eyes like flashing lindyhoppers, lunging with the lumpy fabric of the past, pushing his gauge, a deuce of blips, bloodstream lush as a viper, is more righteous than scumpteen codification. In closing sir, the reed was always remoistened while you were in the booth, cutting the montage sequence. But the pink sequins of Bessie Smith, quenched with yielding limelight, disappear into dust like eighth notes. My button ejects and the tongue spits out the disk’s rainbow.

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Listening to jazz now
Jimmy Santiago Baca, 1952
1. 

Listening to jazz now, I'm happy
     sun shining outside like it was my lifetime achievement award.
                I'm happy,
with my friend and her dog up in Durango, her emailing
     me this morning
no coon hound ailing yowls
vibrant I love yous.
        I'm happy,
        my smile a big Monarch butterfly
        after having juiced up some carrots, garlic, seaweed,
        I stroll the riverbank, lazy as a deep cello
in a basement bar-- 

                   smoke, cagney'd out patrons
                   caramel and chocolate women in black
                             shoulder strap satin dresses,
                   and red high heels.
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Poem at Thirty
Michael Ryan
The rich little kids across the street
twist their swings in knots. Near me,
on the porch, wasps jazz old nesting tunes
and don't get wild over human sweat.
This is the first summer of my middle life.
I ought to be content. The mindless harsh
process of history; with its diverse murders
and starvations, its whippings, humiliations,
child-tyrants, and beasts, I don't care for
or understand. Nor do I understand
restlessness that sometimes stops my sleep.

Waking, those mornings, is like being thrown from a train.
All you know comes to falling:
the body, in its witless crooning for solidity,
keeps heading for the ground.
There is no air, no sound, nothing
but dumb insistence of body weight
coming down, and there is no thought of love,
or passing time, or don't want to be alone.
Probably one hundred thousand impressions
wrinkle the brain in a moment like this,
but if you could think about it
you'd admit the world goes on in any case,
roars on, in fact, without you, on its endless iron track.



But most mornings I ease awake:
also a falling,
but delicate as an agile wing
no one may touch with hands,
a transparent wing like a distant moan
arriving disembodied of pleasure or pain,
a wing that dissolves on the tongue,
a wing that has never flown.

Because I've awakened like this,
I think I could love myself quietly
and let the world go on.

So today I watched a pudgy neighbor
edge her lawn, and heard the small blade whine;
I saw her husband, the briefcase man,
whiz off in his Mercedes without a glance.
I believe I'm beginning to understand
that I don't know what such things mean:
stupid pain or pure tranquillity,
desire's dull ache or conquering the body,
the need to say we and be known to someone
or what I see in myself as I sit here alone.

The sun glares most mornings
like an executive's thick pinky diamond,
and slowly the dark backs off
This is one reason this morning I awakened.



No one can tell you how to be alone.
Some fine people I've known swirl to me
in airy forms like just so much hot dust.
They have all moved through in dreams.
A lover's smell, the gut laugh of a friend,
become hard to recall as a particular wind.

No one can tell you how to be alone.
Like the deep vacuum in sleep, nothing
holds you up or knocks you down, only
it doesn't end in waking but goes on and on.
The tangles of place, the floating in time,
you must accept gently like a favorite dream.

If you can't, and you don't, the mind
unlocks the mind. Madness, with his lewd grin,
always waits outside the window, always
wanting to come in. I've gone out before,
both to slit his throat and to kiss his hand.
No one can tell you how to be alone:

Watch tiny explosions as flowers break ground;
hear the children giggle, rapid and clean.
It's hard to care about ordinary things.
Doesn't pain expand from lack of change?
I can't grasp exactly the feelings of anyone.
No one can tell you how to be alone.



At thirty the body begins to slow down.
Does that make for the quiet on this porch,
a chemical ability to relax and watch?
If a kid bounces her pelvis against a chain-link fence,
bounces so metal sings
and it seems she must be hurting herself
how old must I get before I tell her to stop?

Right now, I let her do it.
She's so beautiful in her filthy T-shirt
and gym shorts, her hair swings with each clang,
and she can do no wrong.
I let her do it as background music
to storm clouds moving in like a dark army.
I let her do it as a fond wish for myself
I feel the vibration of the fence
as a wasp feels voices on a pane of glass.
The song in it I can't make out.

This day, then, ends in rain
but almost everyone will live through it.
Tomorrow's thousands losing their loved ones
have not yet stepped into never being the same again.
Maybe the sun's first light will hit me
in those moments, but I'd gladly wake to feel it:
the dramatic opening of a day,
clean blood pumping from the heart.
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Soledad
Robert Hayden, 1913 - 1980

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

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The Gardenia
Cornelius Eady, 1954
The trouble is, you can never take
That flower from Billie's hair.
She is always walking too fast
and try as we might,

there's no talking her into slowing.
Don't go down into that basement,
we'd like to scream. What will it take
to bargain her blues,

To retire that term when it comes
to her? But the grain and the cigarettes,
the narcs and the fancy-dressed boys,
the sediment in her throat.

That's the soil those petals spring from,
Like a fist, if a fist could sing.
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We Real Cool
Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917 - 2000
                   THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.



We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.