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MORE BLUES POETRY. this is an earlier, unedited version.

How the Blues Die

Bessie Smith flew from her car like an angel
and broke open at the ribs and wrists, died
neglected on the white hospital stretcher.

Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death on the streets
of Chicago, lost in the snow—a thing
he feared in the blank of his eternal whiteout.

Memphis Minnie stroked out, so they shoved
her into a nursing home til her expiration date,
aphasic save for the livid spittle laced to her lip.

Charley Patton became a sizzling collapse
of the heart’s infarction—an entropy of passion
as plaque bloomed like a lily in his ventricles.

Peg Leg Howell burned, corroded by the syrupy
sweet of diabetes that claimed his legs first—
bad sugar crystallizing slow along his thighs, crippling.

Pine Top Smith caught a stray bullet to the chest when
his boogie-woogie spun out of control—he lurched forward
over the bloodied ivories skewed by reckless shots.

Leadbelly escaped every prison except the one
as big as his body: the iron maiden of Lou Gherig’s
shackled his limbs from within and snuffed him out.

Robert Johnson played too far out of hand in Greenwood—
gutted by the barman’s jealous slip of arsenic over his
fifth whiskey, a milky swill of revenge in amber depths.

Big Bill Broonzy felt the cancer coagulate in his throat,
cutting off his vocal flow as he punched riffs into his guitar
and onto the pale, sunwashed porch after morning chemo.

Leroy Carr drowned in the depressive cloy of canned heat—
the crush of drinking to death, while Willie Johnson
suffocated on the icy ash of his burned-out home. Pneumonia

lying heavy in his chest, he hummed “Dark was the Night,
Cold was the Ground” to forgotten streets, careful to still
the chalk-grind of his bones as he sighed off mid-moan.

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mermaid trimeter poetry thing uh

another prompt for class deriving from pages 1-12 of the poetry dictionary.
the whole damn thing was on accentual meter. so i decided i was going to do a trimeter piece, which i’ve attempted before, nbd.
however, i was also kicking around the idea of a fugue.
a fugue is not a poetic form. In music, a fugue (FEWG) is a technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition. the voices work to interweave, repeat, turn upside down in pitch and all kinds of stuff.
so, poetically speaking, this fails, since music is about polyphonics. but repetition, stanzaic modulation and sonic play can imitate it a little. the most bombass fugue poem can be read here, where the author spices up the fugue even more with the play of german and english. another good one is this, and the author’s audio explanation for how it was made (william carlos williams + markov text generator) IS SO EFFING COOL. listen!!
anyways.
FINALLY, with the challenge of a trimeter fugue piece, i was kicking around the idea of the little mermaid. like, she’s a siren. she’s supposed to sing men out to sea and kill them, but instead (at least in the original story), she gives up her voice and endures horrible suffering for her man and then dies. talk about subversion of female power. no wonder disney took that shit over (but of course, you don’t have a franchise if you have a dead princess).
then i really wanted some balance with six sestets following my fugue progression (you know, divisible by three).
OK SO THAT’S EVERYTHING GOING ON IN THIS BITCH. took about 6 hours of work? i dunno. again, not completely satisfied due to form constraints. GIMME SOME FEEDBACK.

Siren Fugue

Breach the ambient scatter
of sun in wave-washed
depths, where everything stirs
and stirs. Breach the ambient
scatter of wavering song
like stirring sun in your throat—

Cross the white halo
between sea and surface
wide as a cathedral
windowpane, cross
the white halo, wide,
while pain draws its holy

notes in the back of your throat—
love so strong you go
breathless in the mute void
of sound, chords crashing like
notes in the back of your throat,
love so strong you swallow

shallow heat: the crush
of tide-torn beaches
empty of music, only
the love-crush lasting as long
as a tide-turn tugged
by a piercing Pisces moon.

Your heart curls on quick
rhythms of deep dusk-water,
the whistle of weightless air—
shallow heat curling
your heart small as a conch,
empty of music, only

a gasp of your siren song
swimming back to the topaz,
shading down into dark
quays and blue reefs
gasping your siren song
back, seducing you home.

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blues is my muse

i don’t know what it is, but i love old country blues. I.LOVE.IT. one of my first pieces in college was an ode to robert johnson and one of my last pieces last semester was an ekphrasis of a blues banjoist.
and now i’m in a history of the blues class so i want to write a poem about every effing lecture. and i’ve also amassed over 500 blues songs from 1924 to the present.
weirdly enough, none of my poems have been [intentionally] in the blues poem form. just poems about blues. guess i should try that next, but it has been so well done by so much better poets that i don’t want to make something suck. TOO MUCH PRESSURE.
anyway.
so this first poem was a contemplated piece, but the second was a piece i edited a little after a 15 minute prompt in class, borrowing the line “let the devil use your head” from Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Blue Light Lounge Sutra For The Performance Poets At Harold Park Hotel.” BEAUTIFUL.

Beale Street Blues

Today I could buy some Greyhound tickets to Memphis
for eleven dollars, but then I’d only get as far as present-day
Beale Street and I’d rather go all the way back
to 1928 when the Sheiks played the Monarch Club
and I could groan along with them about the trauma
of travel and the betrayal of love, a bruise on the throat creeping
along the scale to the deepest blue. Why was every Deep South griot
blind? Why did they all choose the hardest ways to die?
Snorting, stamping, roaming wild with their twelve-strings
and bottleneck slides, they piece together broken folk
and hum gospel til the people move, fingers fumbling frets
for a scrap of cash large enough for the next swig.
I’ll climb aboard that bus, the exhaust like Eucharist
on my lips as I’m christened by the ghosts of rail hobos
and piney top performers, whose rhythmic strumming still
keeps time with the desperate rattle of steel wheels
on blackgum tracks. You won’t know me in the reverb
of hot-drink vision and slack-key tones, but
in the bellow of a bar measure, fluid like the emptying
of the Yazoo to the Mississippi, but strong like cotton
stalks on a hill, nursing a blood-scrawled Delta sunset.

Muse

Let the devil use your head
for a while. Fall down

on windblown crossroads,
your sense swallowed in the slide

of a broken bowie knife scraping
the steel-string fretboard spine,

Notes folding into a space between
scales, spiritual shakes and prison wails.

let the devil use your head
to knock questions against

rotted boxcar walls, blues cries
fertilizing the fields. You don’t recognize

the bones dug up from this silt, the black
grin of a ghost with a story wedged

in his molar made for the groove
of shellac records: a voice of empty

moaning, no place to go—
let the devil use your head,

shave a shank from your tongue
to swipe and swing free of the lumber yards,

and crop rows, no bars to block you,
a rolling strum with time and no tempo

like the rain re-sculpting the furrows—
a banshee loose on the delta-lands.

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I AM SO PROUD OF THIS.

I was stuck in a poem rut, writing shitty things about nightmares and vague inner turmoil, which is fine, I think everyone kinda deals with that from time to time, but after a while that internal world was exhausted of any creative function. I felt like the poem I turned in for first workshop this semester was a cheap cobbling together of the stuff I was least ashamed of from that time; thus, it left much to be desired.
So, the next prompt–write an ode of sorts to a fictional public figure–got me so excited because it forced me to exit the weepy amorphous hole I was in and dig around for something fun and imaginative.
I EFFING LOVE SUPERHEROES, so I was drawn to the Batman mythology. Like, he’s complex as shit. He is a character that constantly negotiates the ambiguities of justice and vengeance, of moral enlightenment and blindness, of fear and courage, internal turmoil and straightforward conflict, etc. all through physical prowess, indomitable will and powerful deduction. DC stands for Detective Comics, after this wildly successful superhero, and there’s no doubt as to why. We can all be Batman, given enough of a motivation, ingenuity and passion (and money, sure). We can all battle the bad guys both externally and within. We can all understand the importance of heroism beyond a single man, and also admire the humanity of sacrificing everything for a deeper cause.
Anyways, here. I tried really hard. I’ve been researching for about a half a week, and the piece was constructed kinda surgically as lines flashed to me and I sanded them down and smoothed them together. Maybe the ending fizzles a little? JUST TELL ME HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER SO I CAN DO BATMAN SOME JUSTICE (get it?).

DARK

It starts in the tricolor acetate lithography
of a panel-blocked Gotham noir. You seek
to reverse the collapse of that night in that alley:
the closeness of the walls, the scream, two shots
then a bloom-splash of blood, pearls bursting
like meteors on the pavement— you seek to stop
the bullets that started it all. In shadows, you are
a spiked cowl and scalloped wings, spurred gauntlets
and a utility belt toothed with throwing knives sliced
into that kitschy animal shape. A crusade swept
under your cape, a cloak of night, a shadow cast, you keep
your heart under onyx rubber and hooked-star emblems.
The black cut of a graphite mask beveled to your cheek—
you despised your fear so you slipped inside its pitch
depths, hoping to turn out the terrors within.
Art deco, bizarre science, lunatics, mobsters and ninjas—
on your rooftop runs under umber skies, the city
looks dirty from the eaves of daguerreotyped skyscrapers.
Nocturne of anarchy, with a slick snap you draw your mantle
around you with one impassioned fist, the crushing
clench of revenge— memory is so treacherous, so flighty—
guilt drops into ink-pools of anger, and you feel so blind.
You fear your power, your fury, your drive to do
great or terrible things. Your growl to the night
leaves huge echoes in the sable caves of your mind.
Justice, a white beacon hisses to you in the sky. You burn,
an effigy of order. You seek to be a symbol, a monster,
a hooded reaper to all this simple filth, drawn in straight lines
across the page, but you know the achromatic tones
of compassion, the real ambiguous humanity of being good.

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i wrote this after watching river monsters.

Jeremy Wade is a god. And a master story-teller. So he told this story of electric eels killing some cowboys when they feel in a river, I was enticed to look them up. Here’s what they inspired.

Electric

On Orinoco river bottoms
or stagnant Amazon waters—
in the dark, in the black
mud, saliva-slick,
they doze, cutlass bodies,
stillwater drones
with pock-punched muzzles
and humming hulls
like bright citrus—
a buzz of low-volt
slumber,
a thick black ribbon
of muscle, a ripple
in the murk—
their bodies rope
over a threshing flank
churning in the slip-stream,
battery-bullet cells
punching, punching,
punching each charge
into an embrace,
and the shock
does not kill, only
stuns, suffocates
the victims as they drown,
as they fold into the electric
clamp of knife-fish bodies
that caress, searching
the numb body twitching
in its neural collapse.

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dat old school sheeyit

if anything, i’ll be a firm believer in the mutually inspirational exchange between music and poetry at the end of this semester, as i am constantly forced to use music as a means of creative expression and artistic embellishment. rap music–but music in general, really–converses nicely with the poetic form,especially because of the importance of sonic harmony explicit in music and implicit in poetry.
anyways, here’s an ode to dj kool herc, the father of hip hop.
at this point, i’m also going to have a large collection of hip-hop poetry. weird.

Herc

You were a demigod in the dancehalls
and on the gym floors. Like the hero they saw,
you ruled the ashy blacktop growing weeds
and aluminum posts, surveyed the cliffs and valleys
of Sedgwick Avenue where projects rose and fell.
You were a pack runner with the graffiti renegades
that earned you your ice-cold name—KOOL, with a K.
The sound cuts harder and sharper than that soft C
nonsense other DJs kissed. First it was you and the gray-black
shoe-scuff of two turntables, a dual channel amp
and PA speakers at your sister’s party, your fingers
frightened by the fresh touch of soaked vinyl—
you rinsed each body like a lover’s, peeling the labels
from black-shined faces so no monster could find your flow.
You scratched smoother, soared higher and lower,
owned all over and under the midrange: treble screams
and bass beats, the drowning moment when the vocals
broke and you dropped in like a swimmer, submerged
in the blue-red pulse-flash of rec-room aquariums.
B-boys and B-girls turn and twist together and apart,
like warped chain-links you scale in flight, the fuzz
from choked speakers roaring in your ears. Soon,
landlords will light the fires to clear out the Bronx,
but you already had the heat in you, a flame furled
in your ribs like the new notes of rap that would find
their way inside—you felt the trudge of that melody
bound beneath funk tones and disco, you
needed to turn it up, help some people listen.

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enJAMbment

Class assignment: 20 enjambed lines.
This is inspired by the stuff I have to read for my Quranic studies class…based on the miracle of the cleansing of the heart of the Prophet, in combo with my favorite surah…just a real quick blurb, nothing super fancy.
I think that religion and mythology provide the best fodder for poetic inspiration. The stories told are always sincere and a little crazy…the metaphors, narrative and allusion are all built in–I don’t have to do much work. Heh.

Sura 94

From the trachea and through the sternum
they cut, slow and deliberate, and reached
into the soft, red cavern where the heavy
curves of your organs slept. In the light
of the Most Holy, they saw the black
cysts, the twisted puckers of your faults and
plumbed you out: liver, stomach, heart
unwound, washed and replaced
with belief. They flooded your veins
with the icy stab of faith and sent you
back, weightless. Are you not free
from your sins? And yet by the dawn
you feel yourself starving, wondering
about the clots they took from you—how
something so small could have caused so much
pain. You relay their voices in synonyms
and metaphors, every word an opening
door, a new prayer. Your people breathe
the name of those saviors and you sing with them
despite your missing lungs. But in silences,
the wound still suffocates, a different burden to bear.

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