Notes on Literature: A (Silent) Poetry Reading

Posted by Michael Borshuk On 10:54 AM
In response to Reya Mellicker's (Silent) Poetry Reading invitation, I wanted to share this favorite of mine by Michael S. Harper:

Here Where Coltrane Is

Soul and race
are private dominons,
memories and modal
songs, a tenor blossoming,
which would paint suffering
a clear color, but is not in
this Victorian house
without oil in zero degree
weather and a forty-mile-an-hour wind;
it is all a well-knit family:
a love supreme.
Oak leaves pile up on walkway
and steps, catholic as apples
in a special mist of clear white
children who love my children.
I play "Alabama"
on a warped record player
skipping the scratches
on your faces over the fibrous
conical hairs of plastic
under the wooden floors.

Dreaming on a train from New York
to Philly, you hand out six
notes which became on an anthem
to our memories of you:
oak, birch, maple,
apple, cocoa, rubber.
For this reason Martin is dead;
for this reason Malcolm is dead;
for this reason Coltrane is dead;
in the eyes of my first son are the browns
of these men and their music.

(from Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000. 37.)


And while I'm at it, here's one more favorite of mine, by Yusef Komunyakaa--

Elegy for Thelonious

Damn the snow.
Its senseless beauty
pours a hard light
through the hemlock.
Thelonious is dead. Winter
drifts in the hourglass;
notes pour from the brain cup.
Damn the alley cat
wailing a muted dirge
off Lenox Ave.
Thelonious is dead.
Tonight's a lazy rhapsody of shadows
swaying to the blue vertigo
& metaphysical funk.
Black trees in the wind.
Crepuscule with Nellie
plays inside the bowed head.
"Dig the Man Ray of piano!"
O Satisfaction,
hot fingers blue
on those white rib keys.
Coming on the Hudson.
Monk's Dream.
The ghost of bebop
from 52nd Street,
footprints in the snow.
Damn February.
Let's go to Minton's
& play "modern malice"
till daybreak. Lord,
there's Thelonious
wearing that old funky hat
pulled down over his eyes.

(from The Jazz Poetry Anthology. Ed. Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa. Bloomington: U of Indiana P, 1991. 120.)

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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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