Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Attention kiddies, I'll be hitting this Friday night (24th) at 8:30 pm,with Jazz saxophonist Rene McClean and his band at Cafe Nema (1334 U ST. NW) There will be another set at 11:00. I'll be performing mostly new stuff, but also some old stuff. There is a cover charge, but I don't know how much. I can promise you the music will be top-notch. I will be performing mostly new pieces, including some which are currently posted here on my blog. 'Radio Mali American Gothic Blues', 'Man Playing Horn', 'Hush Now', 'Twelve Ways of Listening to the Blues', 'Embouchre', and maybe one of the two new villanelles. [I eat for love] is probably stronger as a poem, but 'Chant for a Hazel-eyed Hextress' seems to me like it might flow better with music. Anyway, those will all be on my set list, along with one or two oldies (Maybe Morna, since I've been revising it lately) I'll almost certainly do 'Can I Ask' from the CD, (Which I have renamed '16 Questions and a Desperate Wish') and 'The Idea of Improvisation' since it has a sax player up in it. We'll see, should be a lot of fun.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Last Trip to WallyWorld

(For Robert Johnson, after Wallace Stevens)
The man [hat cocked] picked at his guitar,
A traveling-man of sorts. The day was yellow.
They said, "You got a [Delta] blues guitar,
Can you play things colored as they are?"
The man replied [cigarette dangling], "Thangs as they are, Is colored different on a blues guitar."
And they said to him [Bible-eyed], "But play, you must,
A tune outside of you, but of yourself,
The [Gospel] truth on your blues guitar,
Of things colored as they are."
I can’t paint a picture quite square,
Although I stroke it with much care.
I don’t sing a man's shined shoes, gold tooth
or new suit, but his eternal soul,
I eye him as well I can and conjure
Him up with my mojo hand.
When I pluck him up, moody as the moon
Not sunlit like things as some say they are,
It’s a serrated howl traveling through
these fingers what pick a blues guitar.
A tune colored (as we are),
Yet somehow blued by the [moaning] guitar;
Ourselves [softly] humming as if in tune,
Yet nothing changed, except the place
Of things as they are and the notes
As he bent them on the blues guitar,
Played just so, the chords of change,
Heard in a damned juke-joint;
For an eternity damned, the way
The howl of hellhounds sound where
Even the hand of god is haze.
The tune stops time. The blues [thusly plucked]
Become the crux of things as they are,
The crossroads at midnight on a guitar.
Are these [Hellhound] blues his?
His devil of a delta guitar
Fills the [smoky] juke-joint with dancing women
In thrall with the moon. The yellow-eyed men
Of the women are now [dark] blue, and coming
For his [middle-parted] head that never lies
Alone at night. He picks a string of dilemmas.
Can he change the tune as it is? And how,
As he fingers his frets, can he
Escape that note which echoes
unlike an [eternal] resolution and yet,
Must be. Could the Blues be anything else?

Friday, March 10, 2006


Still on our theme of dissing Wally S. (Man Carrying Thing), or if one prefers "engaging the validity of his ideas" I like this piece, it started out as one of those 'let's just mess around and see what happens' type things and then boom, it kind of came together. I got really, really lucky with this piece. It's the type of poem where you don't know quite what it means, but you know exactly what it means.

Man Carrying Horn

A poem must entice
the sense almost mysteriously.

A noir figure front stage
Entices the open eye.

The muted horn he plays
can entice the most dumb ear.

Sense them then, as key

(notes almost perceived
as known melodies,
uncertain notation
 of certain chords,

the roots full of doubt,

notes floating like the last of Autumn Leaves
on a soft breeze that could last all night,
on a key breeze of cobalt notes),

A seduction of sensation
now deeply perceived.

We will bathe
In this seduction all night,
while the dark mystery

stands back-turned on stage.

(For Miles Dewey Davis
after Wallace Stevens)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Thirteen Ways of Playing the Dozens

If you know my work, you know there's a couple of poems where I have beef with Wallace Stevens (Monday Poem, The Idea of Improvisation), there are several reasons for this, but at least one of them is that I'm not a big fan of his work. I respect his technical facility and ear, but all that 'jerking the poem to the left until it turns on itself' bullshit gets annoying after a while. He's also one of the few major American poets who was openly racist in his work (he titled one poem 'Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery') Anyway, I don't get mad, I get even, this is my riff on his famous Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

(This poem is of one mind,
like a crayon box
in which there are
twelve blues.)

Anyway here's the piece:


Along the guitar's six strings,
The only moving thing
Is the hand of the Blues.

I am of two minds,
Like a blues
Which makes you laugh,
Then cry.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and the Blues
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inhalations
Or the beauty of exhalations,
The Blues harmonica moans.

Bottles line the long bar

With exquisite glass.
The spirit of the Blues

Fills them, bottom to top.
The sound casts
Intoxicating spells.

O Snowmen of Hartford,
Why do you imagine blackbirds?
Do you not see how the Blues
Caress the collarbones
Of the women around you?

I know sassy women
And joyous, laughing rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the Blues is involved
In what I know.

When the Blues flow out of earshot,
They cause a rising tide
in many rivers.

At the sound of the Blues
In a district of red light,
Even violinists of the symphony
Would smile openly.


He rode through Mississippi
In a boxcar.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The moan of a passing train
For the Blues.

A bad moon is rising.
The Blues must be playing.

It was midnight all evening.
It was raining
And it was going to rain.
The Blues colored
The clouds.

To Live Forever

The sure path to poetic immortality is to write one great poem that everyone remembers. Much, much easier said, than done. Is it better to be a mediocre poet and write one great well-known poem or be a very good one, who only poets know?. I figure the villanelle is a good form for writing memorable poems, since they have musical song-like qualities and there aren't many great or memorable ones in English. Hey, it worked for Dylan Thomas. So I'm gonna keep hitting villanelles and try to get lucky and knock one out of the park. Plus, I find them fun to write, since it's a lot like solving a puzzle for me. The trick is to write the last couplet first and choose fertile end words (at least 15 rhymes available). Spend as much time as possible on these two lines, making certain they use vivid imagery and can constitute an argument. Then write the middle line of the first stanza, once again making sure the last word is fertile. You have then written 8 of the form's 19 lines. The rest is like solving an equation. Anyway, here's today's attempt. I like it more than the first, I'll certainly have a lot of fun performing it. The current title is OK, but I may change it if I can find the perfect one.


Some eat for love and take the tasting slow
The feel of food for them contains the treat
Salt and sour, bitter or sweet thus grow.

Who gulps champagne or swallows swift Bordeaux,
Is wine so special, meals cannot compete?
Some eat for love and take the tasting slow

A haste in chewing some will never know
Swiftness of tongue serves up desire's defeat.
Salt and sour, bittersweet thus grow.

A leg or thigh incites some eyes to glow,
What seduces like a marinated meat?
Some eat for love and take the tasting slow.

A luscious meal enchants with smells she throws
The caught aroma makes the tease complete
Salt or sour, bitter and sweet thus grows.

Food fills by going where it has to go
Some rather Morsels danced from cheek to cheek
I eat for love and take the tasting slow
Salt and sour, bitter and sweet thus grow.


Hello boys and girls, more haiku havoc;

summer drizzle,
ferns on my windowsill-

mom plaits girl's hair,
melting in the midday sun-
a jar of hair grease

moon in the window
I tip-toe to the bathroom-
cat's eyes in the hall

Winter morning-
the telephone poles wear
white caps

August heat-
a breeze swishes
the basketball nets

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Radio Mali American Gothic Blues

Yesterday was a sad day for art lovers the world over, seeing the passing of both Gordon Parks (photographer, filmaker) and Ali Farka Toure (musician). Being a poet, I dealt with my sadness by writing a poem. I was in a villanelle flavored groove, so that's what came out:

(For Gordon Parks and Ali Farka Touré)

Tell me once again, how the learning tree grows,
Do its roots burrow all the way to Timbuktu,
If its leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Malcolm X in his fury, “The Greatest” in repose,
Even Beggars in Paris your eye did not refuse.
Tell me once again how the learning tree grows.

The source of the Sahara was a river you composed,
In the heart of the moon flows a branch of brilliant blues.
Do its leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Now your limbs sag, with the weight of many snows,
Still your shutter sings on with moonlight as its muse,
Tell me once again how the learning tree grows.

Baobab, your gray bark nurtures poetry and prose.
Niafunké was wailing when your falling broke the news.
Do your leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Black and shining are the feathers of a thousand crows
Who alight and fill the sky with their darkening news.
They show us where the roots of the learning tree go,
If its leaves shade both lensmen and griots.


The word 'griot' is a rhyme word in this poem and is pronounced "GREE-o." American Gothic the photograph will probably be Gordon Parks most long lasting visual legacy. 'The Learning Tree' was Parks first Hollywood film. 'Radio Mali', 'The Source', and 'In the Heart of the Moon' are CD titles by Toure, Niafunke is the name of both a song and his home village in Mali.


So I did it, finally after 10 years and a million revisions, my manuscript of poems "Still Life" is finished, done, completo. This isn't the first time that I thought I was through, but it is the first time I knew it. Special thanks goes out to all the publishers who have rejected it over the years, thereby giving me a chance to polish it to its current level of sheen. Of course it's just going to keep getting rejected, but I don't care now. I know that I've done everything possible to produce the best poems I can. Now I can start working on the next one. I should have at least three by now, but hey, I'm lazy as hell and write slowly to boot. Below find the last poem that need substantial revisions, I may do more work to the MS, but it's all just touch-up now. The main coats have been brushed and rolled and are drying as we speak. This is one of the few poems I have written where everything is true. Enjoy;

(for Muskie and Dee)

Under a sapphire ceiling,
the three of us walk west
on Constitution Ave.
At 19th St. we become
black threads weaving
through a quilt of white tourists.
You and Denise ask me
what I remember of the war.
I recall in black and white,
helicopters swarming like locusts,
two men emerging from a jungle
bearing a bandaged comrade.
A Buddhist monk wrapped in robes
a warmer orange than
the flames which engulfed him.
I was barely old enough
to understand the flame's finality.
Our conversation fades as
we approach the book of names.
It says Robert Louis Howard,
Panel 22W.
You say Thua Thien, June 1969.
We round the corner
to the headstone of an era,
find an eternal funeral.
Who knows if the sudden hush
is reverence or shame.
Roses, wreaths and carnations,
bright as fresh blood
lean against the stone,
heads bowed.
A legless vet rolls by,
the eye of his camera blinking furiously.
The name sits
thirteen lines from the top.
The tallest, I’m drafted to make the trace.
I square the paper
shading to reveal a shade.
As I hand you the ghost of a name,
the arithmetic hits me.
The summer of ’69
found you in diapers.
All you’ve had for a Dad
is a folded flag,
and a Sergeant’s smile
on a curling Polaroid.
Slowly, the reflecting pools
of our eyes fill.
Trembling, you pose the question
that vexes still. Why?
We walk to the benches
trailing teardrops.
Denise hums a balm
as we huddle and rock.
Below us, three tight-lipped
bronze soldiers.
Above us, a flag spilling
like blood down a bayonet.
Above that, an August sky
almost blue
as the tremor
in Denise's contralto.

I don’t usually explain (or try to expand on) my poems, but this poem is different for me. It’s (obviously) about the first time I visited the Viet Nam Veteran’s Memorial, with my cousins Denise (Hugs and kisses, wherever you are) and Rob (What up, soldier?). I had lived in DC about 15 years at that point, but had never gone to see this particular memorial. I had once tried to go see it, but didn’t realize that unlike all the other monuments, it isn’t visible from the street. So I wound up going right past it and never finding it. Then Denise moved here and we started hanging out and one weekend Rob came down from Connecticut to hang out. I think my mother may have told me that Rob’s father had gotten killed in the war, I’m not sure. Anyway off we go, we took Rob to a couple different places on a mini site-seeing tour first and were all having a great time. We were laughing and joking as we walked down Constitution Ave from the Washington Monument. None of us had ever been to this monument and didn’t know what to expect. If there is anyone foolish enough to doubt the power of art to affect folks in the most powerful of ways, then just take them there and that will end that nonsense forever. The combination of the sculpture, the natural setting and the way the people interact with the monument, creates a very spiritual and moving experience. I was pretty composed until I handed the first tracing to Rob, after I saw the expression on his face, I started losing it. I fought tears all the way through the other 3 or 4 tracings and by the last one could barely see. When we went to the bench and sat down, I cried like I never have, before or since. And Denise just held us, two grown sobbing men and hummed that song. For me part of it was sadness, part guilt. I harbored a tremendous amount of animosity towards my father (See Silent Night or Father, Son), but at least I knew him and had spent time (some happy) with him. I felt bad for Rob like I’ve never felt for anyone. That day was a real turning point for me, in terms of putting things in perspective and beginning to deal with my own issues. I had the stuff about my Dad in earlier drafts, then took it out. I’m not sure if the poem is completely finished or not, but I can live with it as is. We’ll see

For XXXXX (Who may or may not have hazel eyes)

I have always loved Dylan Thomas' famous villanelle Do Not Go Gentle, and have always wanted to write one. So I finally got up the gumption. It's tough. But here's my first attempt, not too bad, I don't think, but hopefully I can do better in the future.


You see through skulls like they were cellophane.
Your eyes skip past skin, penetrate mere bone
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

You visit every room a mansion can contain
And know each hall or door as if your own.
You see through skulls like they were cellophane.

You spy the speed and angle of the rain,
calculate equations still unknown
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

Other women stared, but they all stared in vain
They could not comprehend if they were shown.
You see through skulls like they were cellophane.

You scan every angle, rule every plane,
Plotted all the paths my flights have flown
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

You sip my private thoughts like a champagne
squeezed from every grape I’ve ever grown.
You see through skulls like they were cellophane
and decipher every wrinkle of my brain.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Loop the Loupe

Woke up again with the jeweler's eye, it's amazing, I look at my poems and can spot flaws as easy as a puddle of cat piss in the middle of the kitchen floor. However, I'm just about out of old furniture to refurbish. Anyway I wrote the original draft for this in under 10 minutes on a dare from Terrance Hayes, but would up actually writing something almost decent. Even though I was try to prove a point about how easy it is to write certain kinds of euphonic nondiscursive poems. So I cleaned it up and gave it more of a through-line. It's still got a fairly high level of difficulty, reading-wise, but I think will reward a careful reader who is willing to delve a little deeper than just the surface. But who knows, I could just be on crack. Anyway, this is the first (and so far only) poem in my series on Pittsburgh Jazz musicians.

For Roy Eldridge

A king in French, if not in France,
before the Penguin’s nest razed your realm
who ruled the Hill District's haunts?
Lacquer-lipped, monarchic,
you embraced hot brass, allowed no mill
to steal your wind. Hawkish notes,
Dizzying in their height,
dove through the ear's atmosphere.
Almost aortic how a little Jazz
flowed from the four-chambered nautilus
swinging hemo around the globe.
Still, your role royale was low-down,
gritty as homemade gravy, your lips
buzzing the brass ring in truly cerulean style.

17 Haiku

Once again, it's all about capturing a single moment's perception that contains some kind of contrast. Only Haiku must contain at least one image from nature and a 'word' that clearly indicates the season. Japanese Haiku of course, must have 17 or fewer onji, arranged in a 5-7-5 format. But JH are written on one line, since 5-7-5 is a normal onji distribution, even in prose. An onji is different than a syllable (the word Haiku has three onji since in Japanese all the vowels are pronounced, but only two syllables in English) I try to keep my Haiku under 15 syllables, but generally don't employ the 5-7-5 structure, since it makes little sense in English. Enjoy:

Spring breeze
my wiper blades fill-
with cherry blossoms

on the sidewalk
only the mailman's footprints
part deep snow

starry sky-
tip of the incense flickers

summer morning
my finger traces-
the cool headstone

September 1st-
the goalposts cast
a longer shadow

Cold night alone-
a mug of hot cocoa
is not enough

shelter at midnight
a drunk softly pissing-
the next bed

moonrise in the windshield
sunset in the rear-view

Spring darkness
a garbage truck grinds-
the chirping birds

behind the Carry-out
steam rises-
from yellow snow

shards of glass
beside the stare
of a stiff deer

May 29th-
only sunlight fills
this classroom

New Year's morning
the birds chirping-
too loudly

August night
police chopper drowning out-
the crickets

rainy night
alone in the darkness-
with All Blues

frost on the window-
under three blankets
I aim the remote

beached boat
beneath the worn planks-
a seagull's cry

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

I was feeling in the mood for a Shakespearean Sonnet, so I pulled out an old attempt and Damn if I did't still have the jeweler's eye. Gotta keep rolling til it fades. You never know how long it will last. Anyway here goes;

What Begins with the Period at the End of the Question.

I had just kissed Lisa ‘bye, was chilling
on the Johnson's steps halfway up the street.
Ronny and his brother Ray were swilling
Miller Lite and talking under the beat
of a rhyme rocking the radio. When
the Chevy squealed the corner, I could see
wild eyes squinting from the backseat, then
I thought they might be narrowing for me.
A pistol punctuated, so I ducked
behind a tree. Did my collar get caught?
I felt something warm, saw bright drops, went "Fuck"
but the ground got all wobbly. There was hot
breath asking, "Joel, you alright?" Then a crack
in my skull widened ‘til the world went black.

More Senryu Fun

Like haiku, senryu involve capturing a single moment of perception which contains some kind of a contrast. Often times when reading senryu I don't find the contrast right away, but I usually at least have some kind of intuitive 'feel' for what it is. Anyway I found these laying around and when I looked at them found I had the 'jeweler's eye'. So I spruced them up and here they are.

reading a haiku
about swirling dust-
I sneeze

beneath the robes
of a young Buddist monk-

like his diaper is full-
my son smiles

on the platform-
the scowl of a woman
who missed the train

old man pedals-
wooden cane swinging
from the handlebars



You swung harder than a twenty pound sledge
swifter than a bellydancer's hips
Swung steady as Pops on the porch at night
or the well-oiled hinge of his garden gate
Swung easy as a child from a knotty limb
or a bridge of rope in a raucous breeze
Swung in like the tide at six AM
out like saloon doors past last call.
Have mercy Mr. Ellington,
only you could swing an orchestra
like a hypnotist’s pocketwatch.
Where are those humid Harlem nights
you swung hard as a hammock in a hurricane
with nary a hair out of place?


Are the non nature-related humorous cousins of Haiku.
Five follow;

at the end
of the toilet paper roll-

as my tongue
enters your ear-
a shiver

August night-
this heavy air slows
even roaches

from the front row
of a famous poet's reading-
a snore

gray morning sky
my stubble in the mirror-