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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, June 26, 2017.
About this Poem 

“This excerpt of ‘The Last Bohemian of Avenue A’ is from a book-length poem spoken by an avant-garde jazz musician who has lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for decades. Everything he says about history, culture, and everyday life is tinged by his passion and imagination in service to the art of jazz. Playing the saxophone is perhaps what keeps Barabbas Jones’s encyclopedic memory alive in a world of commodity and forgetting.”
—Yusef Komunyakaa

from “The Last Bohemian of Avenue A”

Here’s the End of the World
mobile with its shiny bullhorn
& platitudes among drawings
tattooed across the beige hood
big as a mammoth broken out
of ice, bellyful of buttercups.
Doomsday has come & gone,
& now the sluggish van rolls
toward the snowy East River
at a quarter past midnight,
& I wonder how it is to quit
a job one week earlier
& return on blue Monday,
begging the foreman
for a chance to stoke
the brimstone furnace.

Changes stumble into my life
sometimes, like last Sunday
when I sat at the dining table
of an old friend of a thousand
stories, a glare falling into my left
eye, her daughter watching
TV in a side room, & I heard
this Foley guy sawing a maple
cross with a horse-hair bow.
I can’t help but walk over
& lean into the doorway,
& then raise a phantom alto
to my lips. The cat’s young too,
rocking his upright at the foot
of Babel, speaking pain & joy
in the most beautiful way
I’ve heard in a long time,
& say to myself, Rabbas,
you could run the table
with this guy at Small’s,
could teach the shadows
to walk on their hands
& dance with alley cats.

I’ve been here a long time
working this hunk of brass,
& knew Mingus in the days
when he’d strike a righteous
pose up on the bandstand
& bring down the house,
talking jive & rave, jabbing
below the belt, where it hurts.
Can you imagine him up there
today, playing a new version
of “Fables of Faubus,” big
as thunder at dawn rocking
hundred-year-old hanging trees
out of memory, can you dig?

The guy on the corner
jingling coins in a Dixie cup
pulls on his blind-man’s shades
as March runs down Delancey,
woozy as a rush-up of sparrows
over Chinatown. One small thing
seems almost holy, & lightheaded
hues settle over the architecture
& a handkerchief dance unfolds
into some jostle of bumper balls.
This is the hour paradise is not
only for itself, & one doesn’t feel
stupid picking up a dull penny
from a sidewalk. A tremble goes
through cloth, tugging bodies
into a new world, & by ten-thirty
the wind rolls on past the Hudson,
headed upstate. I want to jump
up & down, to shout as March
ambushes the last antiheroes
this scatterbrain side of town.
 

Copyright © 2017 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 26, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa

Poet Yusef Komunyakaa first received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic, a collection of poems built from colloquial speech which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences.

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2
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The hills my brothers & I created
Never balanced, & it took years
To discover how the world worked.
We could look at a tree of blackbirds
& tell you how many were there,
But with the scrap dealer
Our math was always off.
Weeks of lifting & grunting
poem

1

The seven o'clock whistle
Made the morning air fulvous
With a metallic syncopation,
A key to a door in the sky---opening
& closing flesh.  The melody
Men & women built lives around,
Sonorous as the queen bee's fat
Hum drawing workers from flowers,
Back to the colonized heart.
A titanous