Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Blues

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

BY angela jackson
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
us young.
And this gulf of blues, deep and shiny,
the only place to be
between Time and Eternity.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington

Nina's Blues
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
                                                                     gathering dust.
I remember the taste of a mouth so sudden and still cold from
                                                                         wintry gusts.
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 cafĂ© but don’t,
                                                                        how pleasing
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
                                                                       what’s gone?

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Blues by Maurice Ravel

Suburban Pastoral

BY dave lucas
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

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Poems for Winter


The Paperweight

by Gjertrud Schanckenberg

The scene within the paperweight is calm,
A small white house, a laughing man and wife,
Deep snow. I turn it over in my palm
And watch it snowing in another life,
Another world, and from this scene learn what
It is to stand apart: she serves him tea
Once and forever, dressed from head to foot
As she is always dressed. In this toy, history
Sifts down through the glass like snow, and we
Wonder if her single deed tells much
Or little of the way she loves, and whether he
Sees shadows in the sky. Beyond our touch,
Beyond our lives, they laugh, and drink their tea.
We look at them just as the winter night
With its vast empty spaces bends to see
Our isolated little world of light,
Covered with snow, and snow in clouds above it,
And drifts and swirls too deep to understand.
Still, I must try to think a little of it,
With so much winter in my head and hand.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Snowman, by Erich Korngold

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY robert frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Footprints in The Snow, by Claude Debussy

The Snow Man
BY wallace stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Adagio from String Quintet in C by Franz Schubert

There's a certain Slant of light
BY emily dickinson
There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Mirror in Mirror by Arvo Part

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Random Poems: Playlist for February 12, 2016


Well, You Needn’t
BY william matthews

Rather than hold his hands properly   
arched off the keys, like cats
with their backs up,
Monk, playing block chords,
hit the keys with his fingertips well   
above his wrists,

shoulders up, wrists down, scarce   
room for the pencil, ground   
freshly to a point,
piano teachers love to poke
into the palms of junior
pianists with lazy hands.

What easy villains these robotic   
dullards are in their floral-
print teaching dresses
(can those mauve blurs be
peonies?). The teachers’ plucky,   
make-do wardrobes suggest, like the wan

bloom of dust the couch exhaled   
when I scrunched down to wait   
for Mrs. Oxley, just how we value   
them. She’d launch my predecessor   
home and drink some lemonade,   
then free me from the couch.

The wisdom in Rocky Mount,
North Carolina, where Monk grew up,   
is that those names, Thelonious   
Sphere, came later, but nobody’s   
sure: he made his escape
by turning himself into a genius

in broad daylight while nobody   
watched. Just a weird little black   
kid one day and next thing anybody   
knew he was inexplicable
and gone. We don’t give lessons   
in that. In fact it’s to stave off

such desertions that we pay
for lessons. It works for a while.   
Think of all the time we spend   
thinking about our kids.
It’s Mrs. Oxley, the frump
with a metronome, and Mr. Mote,

the bad teacher and secret weeper,   
we might think on, and everyone   
we pay to tend our young, opaque   
and truculent and terrified,   
not yet ready to replace us,   
or escape us, if that be the work.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Well You Needn't by Thelonious Monk

The Dancer
BY david tucker

Class is over, the teacher
and the pianist gone,
but one dancer
in a pale blue
leotard stays
to practice alone without music,
turning grand jetes
through the haze of late afternoon.
Her eyes are focused
on the balancing point
no one else sees
as she spins in this quiet
made of mirrors and light—
a blue rose on a nail—
then stops and lifts
her arms in an oval pause
and leans out
a little more, a little more,
there, in slow motion
upon the air.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Slow Waltz (from IMPRESSIONS) by Clarice Assad

A Day At The Races
BY robert vandermolen

When you wake up after twelve hours
The stove is cold, there's ice in the water bucket
clouds outside and snow, the noise of a crow,
The only sound; until your wife cries
From an upper bunk, Honey, I'd like some coffee.
Luther chuckles. I nod, excuse myself for the men's room

Next to me stretches a teacher
Who once warned me not to get married
Too early. Elderly now, but having done well
In real estate as a second career. He says
Well, well, as if he can't recall my name.
But buys me a drink and talks of his wayward
Daughter. When he mentions her married last name
I tell him I have met her, but leave off at that    . . .
He squints like a badger. In my wife's family, he resumes,
After a jostling by a drunken salesman, there's a
Sort of stupid gene that runs through the whole outfit,
Being half Finnish, half Dutchor maybe something
Cancelled something    . . .    I notice a protuberance, a small growth
At the edge of his eye, hanging like a broken thread

I always thought, I say, your daughter had a charming
Personality. He hunches his shoulders. Waking to dread,
The debts of dreadbut I couldn't help him.
Neither did I want to. On the way out
I spot my first wife chatting with a small-time gangster
She flutters a wave my way, a Victorian flutter

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Appalachian Waltz by Mark O'Connor

Mrs. Stein
BY bill dodds

The school bell rings, we go inside,
Our teacher isn’t there.
“Maybe she’s sick!” her pet cries out.
Yeah, right. As if I’d care.

I have a D in Language Arts,
My grade in math’s the same.
And now my teacher might be sick.
Could be I’m part to blame.

She doesn’t like me, that’s a fact,
I wouldn’t tell a lie.
She says stuff like: “You’re very smart,
But you don’t even try.”

I start to laugh—my teacher’s sick!
And boy, I’m feeling fine . . .
When someone knocks the door right in,
And there stands Frankenstein.

She’s six-foot-eight, her dress is black,
She’s wearing combat boots.
I start to gasp, she growls and says,
“I’ll be your substitute.”

The teacher’s pet is whimpering;
She doesn’t stand a chance.
The smart kid stares and points and faints.
The bully wets his pants.

“My name is Mrs. Stein,” she says,
And every student cringes.
She leans the door against the wall,
She’s knocked it off its hinges.

“Now let’s begin. You there! Stand up!”
She looks me in the eye.
I try to move, my legs won’t work.
I know I’m going to die!

In one big step she’s next to me,
And she does more than hover.
She blocks the sun, it’s dark as night,
My classmates run for cover.

“Now get up to the board,” she says.
“I’d like to see some action.
Pick up the chalk, explain to us
Division of a fraction.”

I leap away to save my life,
This time I really try.
I think and think and think and croak,
“Invert and multiply.”

“Correct! She says. I breathe again
And head back for my chair.
“You, FREEZE!” she shouts, and I stop cold.
“And don’t go anywhere.”

This all begins at nine o’clock,
I fight to stay alive.
It seems to last a million years—
The clock says nine-o-five.

That’s just three hundred seconds,
And then my turn is through.
She points at every one of us—
“Now you. Now, you. Now, you.”

We all get nailed this awful day,
There’s nowhere we can hide.
The lunch bell rings, we cannot eat,
We simply crawl outside.

We can’t believe the other kids
Who run and play their games.
Not us, who have big Mrs. Stein—
Our world is not the same.

The bell has tolled, I must go in,
My time on earth is through.
I’ll leave this on the playground—
Here’s what you have to do.

You must listen to your teacher
And pray her health is fine,
Or one day soon you’ll hear the words:
“My name is Mrs. Stein.”

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: School's Out by Alice Cooper

Two Violins
BY a. e. stallings

One was fire red,   
Hand carved and new—
The local maker pried the wood
From a torn-down church's pew,

The Devil's instrument
Wrenched from the house of God.
It answered merrily and clear
Though my fingering was flawed;

Bright and sharp as a young wine,
They said, but it would mellow,
And that I would grow into it.
The other one was yellow

And nicked down at the chin,
A varnish of Baltic amber,
A one-piece back of tiger maple
And a low, dark timbre.

A century old, they said,
Its sound will never change.
Rich and deep on G and D,
Thin on the upper range,

And how it came from the Old World
Was anybody's guess—
Light as an exile's suitcase,
A belly of emptiness:

That was the one I chose
(Not the one of flame)   
And teachers would turn in their practiced hands

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Red Violin by John Corigliano