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BIRMINGHAM 1963

 

They were just

four

 

little girls

in a church

 

not old

enough

 

to know

the Lord

 

forgave them

for being

 

born

 

four

 

little girls

ribbons

 

in their greased

tight hair

 

 

 

Tree Pride

 

for Peter Connor

 

Winter is for everyone

in my front room a tree

 

planted in a tea kettle

its lights like stars

 

glow there

may my Christmas

 

tree lights find you

and lead you safely

 

to my house in the cold

winter night 

 

 

AMERICAN SWEETHEART

 

Whatever happened to Baby Jane

in her flip flops   takin’ a drag

scraping the floor   hanging

onto the icebox door with an Oreo

and a bottle of beer   kitchen

in a whirl   she’s feeling so good

talking to light bulbs and cockroaches

she’s America’s child actor

America’s sweetheart

a has-been   the tap dancing

white kid with the finger curls

blood red eyes in a house

dress   three days old smelling

of piss   whatever happened

to you Baby Jane   who used to keep

America warm in those hungry

depression days dancing

up the plantation stairs

my little southern gal   our little

chile you were tomorrow

little sugar girl

in a dustbowl black storm time

singing of hope beyond Kansas

 

WHAT A WOMAN WANTS

IN STEPFORD

 

out of her ovens   hot

cross buns and biscuits

tender hams come    If

the   world    is white    (my dears)

the perfect  woman is a Step-

ford wife opening   with pride

her oven

hair a combed    straight     blonde

no curls      allowed

in Step-ford     behind

her    man    a perfect Pat

Nixon   suits    and heels

at cocktail    hour     in an apron

the last  one seated

at dinner      she needs   a husband

she thinks    but I think  all she wants

is a good stiff     drink

 

HAVING IT ALL

 

He’s the dude*

with finger-combed

silvers like the fox

white

(for the dude in all

of us) hair the Hemingway

look

Razor-cut chin

player**

With a strut

A handful of give me

five

Down the aisles

in the bookstore

The dude

in New Titles

Rolling his shoulders

Like Marlon Brando Terry

Malloy

ready

To lean a little

On a chick****

he thinks

and he is

In a non smoking

Way

On the phone

like a private

Dick

Sam Spade***

Whiskey baritone

Man*

honey

So cool

he’s Ice

check out the stride

Slow deliberate

Like a cat****

On the prowl

For a small

Wild

Furry

Thing

He’s got it all

and some of yours too

He’s the dude

 

* White male with style

** Chick magnet who can’t say no

*** Private eye created by Dashiell Hammett and made famous by Humphrey Bogart

**** Cool but stylish woman

 


 

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY JIM CROW

 

— for Aaron Copland and sixteen presidential elections

 

Blues child

sixties

 

hip hoppers

homeboys (raisins out

 

of the sun)

grandmother

 

getting

looped

 

her January is

almost as good

 

as Concord

Grape

 

Freedom riders

and freedom

 

school

Margaret Walker’s

 

epic

people and poem

 

striving

striving

 

America is

beautiful

 

today

like Marian

 

Anderson so beautiful

(like an old sweet Ray

 

Charles

Georgia Georgia

 

Every word a promise

of her/his country

 

fulfilled

today

 

the corns cut

It fiddling time

 

Beyoncé singing

“At Last”

 

From ’Sippi

Boston

 

Mama’s cotton town

And the forgotten

 

Washington side

streets

 

throw a few licks

on the keys

 

lay a burden down

stand up

 

for President

elect Obama

 

Like we did

at lunch

 

counters

for

 

James Meredith (shot

cause he wanted

 

to learn

like a white

 

in Mississippi)

Stand up

 

for America

and each

 

other

shining faces

 

like the sun white

and brown standing

 

for tomorrow

and god

 

folks

gone yesterday

 

King Malcolm Bobby

Cheney Goodman

 

and Schwerner

This little light

 

of mine sang hands

clapping

 

Fannie Lou Hamer

“Let it shine!”

 

“Let it shine!”

Marian Anderson   this country

 

is thee

we sing we

 

are here

spare change

 

In a Dunkin

Doughnut

 

cup

for the hungry

 

those tired

and still

 

there

put out

 

our hands

instead

 

of the fist

for a new president

 

We have

come bringing

 

the dream

and to dream

 

walk

with the sweat

 

and will

in the cold

 

stand

before the TV

 

march

boombox and

 

walkman

Blackberry

 

and latte

at Starbucks

 

and McDonalds

gather round

 

the kitchen table

in the Irish

 

pub next door

the radio

 

in the work

place table

 

and counters

the hoods

 

and country

in the sweet

 

by and by

on the beautiful

 

shore

no more someday

 

walk

America

 

with your bottle

water beer

 

latte Italian

Swiss Colony

 

Turtle Bay

pound penny

 

slots at Twin River

twist-off

 

in a brown

paper bag

 

the lottery

Common Ground

 

corner pub

for a early

 

happy hour  good

day

 

Mr. Jim Crow

been a looong

 

time since

I seen you 

 

America

has come home

from the mountain top


 

BEAUTIFUL MEL TORME

 

            The drummer

                                    sits above

us                                 the horn

is the left                                               bank

            the music

            jumping

            over heads

and April

            in Paris

 

is a pretty             Mel Torme

 

smooth and crooning

                        A foggy day

and there is nothing

a tune   from memory

of an old record

                        you may talk

                        about the blues

                        (and this is jazz)

 

cause hearing it ain’t the same

as playing it

                                                live

 

says      beats

                                                the drummer

 

 


 

ROMANCE

 

For them  O & M

Beyoncé and

 

the good old

songs

 

our parents

danced to

 

At Last

it is the two

 

of them

old school

slow

 

dancing

one

 

step

and then

 

another

glide

 

to the music

At Last

 

my lonely

days

 

are over

the two

 

of them

leaning

 

with the music

the song

 

is them

and us their

 

hearts

move

 

each other

hers

 

his

so close

 

they are

these two

 

we cannot

see

 

how dark

the ballroom

 

is young

people

 

thinking

it is our fathers

 

our mothers

in love

 

so

long

 

ago


 

DEAD RESPECTABILITY

 

the poet looking for cigarette butts

in the gutters of Common

wealth Avenue is not a bum living alone on Joy Street

he’s John Weiners   my friends will speak well

of him after he’s dead    at MIT the Blacksmith Poetry reading

see him now and then out of his fucking mind

he will be okay   he’s dying   his poems are collected

in a signed limited edition poets cannot afford they

thumb through the paperback edition at the Grolier Bookshop

the best books are the review copies    the books you never pay for

good hunting Mr. Weiners the  downtown and uptown

gutters are littered with butts like the shelves of poetry

collections in Barnes and Noble

 

walk in without knocking  the world’s already here

waiting for Wieners  wanting a true poem

life not literature Leroi wrote letters

in poems small press editions reading

in coffee shops cigarettes

smoking unwashed

smokers for Negro rights

and peace fags beating

bongos poetry  on mimeograph queer

is good John  Weiners Frank O’Hara

look for you on Forty-Second

Street in the all night movie

 

bathroom cheap hotel rooms stretch out

yr arms touch the walls wide enough

to touch  yr fingers in a single cot long

room wish  you stayed

in Baltimore the only Negro poet

downtown drinking T’bird national

bo- finger typing   like Roi and Creeley

for love of the people   the common language

of the stoops and avenue

the Negro night and jazz

in yr fingers  to the keys of the typewriter

out  of the pawnshop next to the bed

plate of kale last night

cigarettes and all those Totem Corinth poetry

books from the Eighth Street

Bookstore where you saw Ginsberg so cool like he here

right now in this room

in New York talking poetry reading poems

and you can’t believe  that he sounds like

another guy reading

his stuff like the words are from somewhere

else in the ghetto

a cheap unheated apartment

and the streets are always night

dangerous punks

winos and he trying to save

America with a poem and chanting

and the world

is so small that Kruschev and Nixon

the cops are here in this room

waiting for Wieners to walk in

without knocking

the underfed  non-educated Negro generation

post slavery depression world war two

Negro in the police Ginsberg

white jazz America of a beat America

of Time Magazine Communist intellectual

American life afraid to be mensches

book loving Negro white faggots

in American name only

Eisenhower schoolhouse door free south

separate and not even the black

eye popping knee-knocking stolen by

Elvis imprisoned in the living room life

John Weiners there you are like me

a poet without a butt a smoke

a coffee in Boston who remembers

Lamont Cranston the clouding

 

of the mind Mae West more man

than Cary Grant see her upstairs

pretending to be a woman   the tits

are hers the body is Wallace Berry

John Weiners middle age is for

the empty nest wasp   St Peter

on speed   hard work if you can get

it   you are Jimmy Cliff in Harvard Square

 

FOR WHAT WE ARE ABOUT TO RECEIVE

 

We are

                        the what

the living

Seed

now giving

 

            thanks

to the new

                        ;an thee

 

our lives and daily

suffering

is living

and like a gift

                        we are

thankful for


 

LANGSTON KNOCKING

 

— for the students in Mary Strickland’s class at the Creekside Intermediate School

 

Poems (one day)

Will come

(I promise)

for you

Langston Hughes (head

full of rivers

sorrow

Georgia

pine

and a little

moon

shine jazz)

give the feet (a little

                        jive)

a snap

                        to the

fingers

corn rolls

                        and red

shoes

toes

to keep the

beat

                        on Bourbon

Street

 

                        like some

a poem

 

will come

 

and open

a door

say

come in

 

I have

 

been waiting

for you for

 

Langston

and you

and you             I promise

 


 

CASSADY

 

barber’s boy

writes

 

“Uncle Sam’s

no relative of mine”

 

broke in Kansas

hungry in Kansas

 

horny in Kansas

alone in the West

 

Buick and Plymouth

my home

 

hitchhiking

writer & drunk

 

cowboy

of the Denver

 

bus stop

and barber

 

shop

letter writer

 

of the eternal

sentence

 

shouting

 

“go go go go”

to Negroes

 

and bop

 

blank

verse poets

 

ride

 

out of flophouses

into America

 

driving

five hundred

 

stolen cars

 

lookin’ for chicks

and Kerouac

 


 

NEAL

 

Cody of the poolhall

and backwoods

 

like Gene Autry

of the Hollywood

 

West the sunset

and horse

 

the gasoline

station

 

on his tombstone

he wanted to be

 

an Indian fighter

George Washington

 

Daniel Boone

in a coonskin cap

 

and here he is

shouting

 

“go go go go”

to Negroes

 

and bop

 


 

RESPECTABLE IN DEATH

 

Pretty Boy the baby face Nelson  John with the smooth

red face of the farmer    the hick      the cracker

 

(don’t you boys know farmers can’t be Jessie James)

with a tommy gun       a revolver             a bullet hole in the back

 

of your starched white shirt  fighting the railroad

the ranchers with sheep and the bible

 

doing something with the gun

to the banks the  carpet baggers             Floyd s pretty

 

enough to be a boy(nothing of a girl in his old face

he  aint pretty he just  young            shooting squirrels and cats

 

Floyd with four bullets  holes in your stomach boy in a suit

you are looking respectable like a hard working dead white man

 

 


 

THE DEAD LECTURER* IS DOWN

 

Amiri Baraka in the 1960s

 

LeRoi

            is a

street

            poem

going

            by

a little

            jig

 

            step

his legs

           

break

            at the

knee

            ready

for a tap

 

dance

            his jive

is cool

 

and

            talkin’

baby

            (not

a child

            or woman)

man

            he says

what’s

            up

baby

            Roi

is going

            by

 

* Title of one of Baraka’s books


 

THE MAN FROM LARAMIE

 

— for James Sock

 

“No one knew anything about him”

— lyrics from the theme by Ned Washington

 

just a man                        longing

for his brother                        a stranger

riding                        out

of an old man’s dream                        in a white hat

two guns at his side                        they hog tied him

dragged his squirming                        body through

the campfire                        the salt and dust

he had been loading                        his mule drawn wagons

up with salt                        when they caught

him on the flats                        on the old man’s

range just salt                        but the range

is the old man  they

shot him left

 

a bullet

in his gunhand

 

left him with the dead mules       the burning

wagons                        the angry man

 

from Laramie nobody knew                        anything about

him ’cept he was diggin

 

on the old man’s range

 


 

LIKE A POOR MAN

 

He came home in a mule drawn cart

on a bridge in Selma

a burning slum in Negro America

in the fist and billy club in the black

Mariah to the foot of Jesus (and

there is no happiness anywhere

urban renewal and millions

just like me in

the night of an America he made

he went to glory like a old woman

in a hearse with four proud white houses

he was the king long live the king

he died an old time death

weary and ready to die like Richard

Wright’s Big Boy twisting

in the wind he’s  gone home

like a poor man to the ground