The Blues Don’t Change
BY al Young
“Now I’ll tell you about the
Blues. All Negroes like Blues.
Why? Because they was born with
the Blues. And now everybody
have the Blues. Sometimes they
don’t know what it is.”
And I was born with you, wasn’t I, Blues?
Wombed with you, wounded, reared and forwarded
from address to address, stamped, stomped
and returned to sender by nobody else but you,
Blue Rider, writing me off every chance you
got, you mean old grudgeful-hearted, table-
turning demon, you, you sexy soul-sucking gem.
Blue diamond in the rough, you are forever.
You can’t be outfoxed don’t care how they cut
and smuggle and shine you on, you’re like a
shadow, too dumb and stubborn and necessary
to let them turn you into what you ain’t
with color or theory or powder or paint.
That’s how you can stay in style without sticking
and not getting stuck. You know how to sting
where I can’t scratch, and you move from frying
pan to skillet the same way you move people
to go to wiggling their bodies, juggling their
limbs, loosening that goose, upping their voices,
opening their pores, rolling their hips and lips.
They can shake their boodies but they can’t shake you.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Three Songs by Leadbelly
The Gulf of Blues
On the other end of the line
he sounds like my brother
but is my father
telling me about Coony who is fat.
His whole body like a stomach
round all round, fat even on his head.
Eighty and heavy.
How he joked Coony about his weight,
joking him about a tow truck he’d need
to haul him out of the tub
like an old sunken ship pulled out of
the gulf of blues,
leaving whirlpools in the porcelain.
“Quit all that eating and drinking,”
my daddy say he said to him.
“Quit pointing in that garden and reach down
to get it.” My daddy say he joked him,
ribbed him good.
(And I know my daddy laughed gap-toothed,
his mouth, throat, chest, and gut wide
open for the signifying jest.
His gray hair striking back time.)
He sounds like my brother when he was
a little boy, digging in the encyclopedia
for the cause of something obscure, occult,
trying to figure out how old Coony slipped
in the bathtub that was always there
and died like that. Baby Sister called
to tell it first and she wasn’t joking
after all like my daddy thought she was,
Death a sad trick children pull.
On the other end of the line
my father sounds like my brother now.
I know how
Dying, bitter or tender, is the dark water that keeps
And this gulf of blues, deep and shiny,
the only place to be
between Time and Eternity.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington
By Cornelius Eady
Your body, hard vowels
In a soft dress, is still.
What you can't know
is that after you died
All the black poets
In New York City
Took a deep breath,
And breathed you out;
Dark corners of small clubs,
The silence you left twitching
On the floors of the gigs
You turned your back on,
The balled-up fists of notes
Flung, angry from a keyboard.
You won't be able to hear us
Try to etch what rose
Off your eyes, from your throat.
Out you bleed, not as sweet, or sweaty,
Through our dark fingertips.
We drum rest
We drum thank you
We drum stay.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Nina Simone sings Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
Blues for Almost Forgotten Music
BY roxane beth johnson
I am trying to remember the lyrics of old songs
I’ve forgotten, mostly
I am trying to remember one-hit wonders, hymns,
and musicals like West Side Story.
Singing over and over what I can recall, I hum remnants on
buses and in the car.
I am so often alone these days with echoes of these old songs
and my ghosted lovers.
I am so often alone that I can almost hear it, can almost feel
the half-touch of others,
can almost taste the licked clean spine of the melody I’ve lost.
I remember the records rubbed with static and the needle
I remember the taste of a mouth so sudden and still cold from
It seemed incredible then — a favorite song, a love found.
It wasn't, after all.
Days later, while vacuuming, the lyrics come without thinking.
Days later, I think I see my old lover in a café but don’t,
it was to think it was him, to finally sing that song.
This is the way of all amplitude: we need the brightness
to die some.
This is the way of love and music: it plays like a god and
then is done.
Do I feel better remembering, knowing for certain
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Blues by Maurice Ravel
Twilight folds over houses on our street;
its hazy gold is gilding our front lawns,
delineating asphalt and concrete
driveways with shadows. Evening is coming on,
quietly, like a second drink, the beers
men hold while rising from their plastic chairs
to stand above their sprinklers, and approve.
Soon the fireflies will rise in lucent droves—
for now, however, everything seems content
to settle into archetypal grooves:
the toddler's portraits chalked out on cement,
mothers in windows, finishing the dishes.
Chuck Connelly's cigarette has burned to ashes;
he talks politics to Roger in the drive.
"It's all someone can do just to survive,"
he says, and nods—both nod—and pops another
beer from the cooler. "No rain. Would you believe—"
says Chuck, checking the paper for the weather.
At least a man can keep his yard in shape.
Somewhere beyond this plotted cityscape
their sons drive back and forth in borrowed cars:
how small their city seems now, and how far
away they feel from last year, when they rode
their bikes to other neighborhoods, to score
a smoke or cop a feel in some girl's bed.
They tune the radio to this summer's song
and cruise into the yet-to-exhale lung
of August night. Nothing to do but this.
These are the times they'd never dream they'll miss—
the hour spent chasing a party long burned out,
graphic imagined intercourse with Denise.
This is all they can even think about,
and thankfully, since what good would it do
to choke on madeleines of temps perdu
when so much time is set aside for that?
Not that their fathers weaken with regret
as nighttime settles in—no, their wives
are on the phone, the cooler has Labatt
to spare; at nine the Giants play the Braves.
There may be something to romanticize
about their own first cars, the truths and lies
they told their friends about some summer fling,
but what good is it now, when anything
recalled is two parts true and one part false?
When no one can remember just who sang
that song that everybody loved? What else?
It doesn't come to mind. The sprinkler spits
in metronome; they're out of cigarettes.
Roger folds up his chair, calls it a day.
The stars come out in cosmic disarray,
and windows flash with television blues.
The husbands come to bed, nothing to say
but 'night . Two hours late—with some excuse—
their sons come home, too full of songs and girls
to notice dew perfect its muted pearls
or countless crickets singing for a mate.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Blues by Aaron Copland