Five Homage Poems


Four for Shepp




Gatefold album covers of orange

inside of which Archie Shepp manifested

statements of art,

social responsibility, tradition—


serious texts to accompany

a serious music

a fire music forging

socio-aesthetic felt fabulae




poems propounding pleasure and protest (both),

a tone propolict, gooey,

propitious in its gutturality—

it’s gonna be a good night—


to lay down those scratchy slabs

of vinyl, their heavy covers,

their heavy register finding

the ingate then the path




“[James] Joyce went back to the Druids.”



which is to locate the spirit

in the word and wail, the recitation

of knowledge—be it mystic or felt,

felt textures, a texture of foal’s fur


a text, printed or pressed in wax,

the bees fly us there then erase it,

wind out of a horn, born once more blow

the location of a spirit underneath the mind




“This is a black music. It is a form that black men have given to America . . . havegiven to America . . . out of love!”



acknowledgment or reference to tradition

back/front-garde, thing nouvelle

revolving to a gutbucket beat or

no beat where the wail warps itself


in a pome tenor-throated, of the stage

or in the studio threaded with tapes

revolving and tender, impressions

of birth, and by which art


« murderers

« they shall be destroyed »


and for which art—

for what it’s worth,

I offer my humble




Archie Shepp: 1960s-70s free-jazz saxaphonist and poet.



Bill Evans (Juxtapositions)



Swirls of notes and

shimmering rolls,

or the bittersweet note,

the sad simplicity of

the out-of-key jab—


not always entirely in the blues,

the complexity of bop and

the lyricality of something

I don’t know,

be it fast, or

s l o w


—you listen to Bill Evans

in those places in

your chest or mind you didn’t know

were there, yet there

are those weird places,


a vein

you both share


Bill Evans: Mid-late-twentieth-century jazz pianist.



For Richard Realf




doomed as Burns and Byron,

stabbed and wandering


whose guesses at the beautiful,

whose petting lissome ladies

whose draggled torn-up pages


to Five Points, then to Kansas

to fight against the slavers

—guerrillas American of the soil,


militant rhetorics of poetry

composed upon the prairie ground

at night, or daylight in the leaves


Realf, secretary of state

in John Brown’s provisional govt.

in secret meetings and orations


his Jesuitical responses

to Jefferson Davis

in the federal inquest committee room


and in the outright war

fuck the South, its “chivalry,”

bullets, bullets galore


Realf, post-war wandering

city to town breakdowns,

Pittsburgh panic and poverty


who desolate had burned with love

and swum the hashish skies,

his primal mystic texts, reports


whose mistakes kept coming back

like bad metaphors,

to hurteth him as he hurteth


and ever on he fled his own flaws

hawking rehashed poems to papers

doomed finally to Oakland by the bay—


Realf, I glimpsed you, hoary,

turning a wood-clapped corner

down a hallway of the Winsor Hotel


peripheral visions of poison suicide

daisies round your grave,



Richard Realf: 1832-78, mysterious and storied poet.




Homage to Peggy Pond Church



Once she held this book

to sign it—

and if in dream the dead

return to tell you something—



does she hand you the golden flower?

do you fly above the mesa

pursuing her vision of beauty

the bulge of twilight

the bird that finds its exit

from amid the beams

of the box store


this pink book with green endpapers

of hills, dry riverbeds, ski trails,

and arroyos filling with rain

that she held cupped in hands

till it ran through and down

the atomic air


Peggy Pond Church: New Mexico poet, 1903-86.



Elegy for Leroy Carr



Preceding the blues

of the southern fields,

the Indianapolis avenue


on which human being

sang his sogged refrain

and folded the chords of a traum-time scene


rain along gutters

of the Avenue,

black holes in the white wall of the back room


a becoming-wax—

a becoming-train—

there’s rats in my bed, and booze for my tomb



Leroy Carr: Indianapolis blues pianist and singer, recorded 1928-35,

accompanied by Scrapper Blackwell on guitar.

Poetry Collection

40 Martyrs Church, Aleppo


A deacon points to each saint,

identifies well known iconography in cracked French:

St. John with his head on a platter, St. George and the dragon,

Mary with Jesus and the Baptist, St. Joseph, the Last Judgment,

the altar and the pulpit.

The patriarch, Gregorius, severe Armenian,

as if he expected to bear crosses


buried beneath his feet,

the fourth-century entombed

strata below these medieval stones

and the rest massacred.

Once remembered here.

Near the door, a vase of flowers riffled for one red carnation

handed to me without apparent thought for history.




Aleppo’s Citadel

Early March haze barely hides the sun

strong enough to make a donkey blink

as it climbs the ramparts of the castle and bows

its head under a pannier full of cola bottles

prodded from behind to find the rough grid

meant for Arabian stallions passing by two pairs

of stone lions, one laughing and one crying

at the ceremonial casket laid in state, St. George

taken from the crusades and entombed;

having risen to heaven, he’s left an empty box

draped in green silks, woven in local looms

perhaps on the main avenue of the castle’s

now shuttered souks beside empty cisterns

bleak as prisons. Arrows at right angles

mounted, difficult to imagine flying as torture

in the porcelain pots shaken from earthquakes

and excavations. Scattered pieces, catapult

with cannon and there the eunuchs’ quarters,

like Allah inscribed in stone as witness

to what’s been done and can’t be restored.




Learning to Write in Two Languages

English requires space, asserted autonomy

in separate seats expected to fit average knees


and arms kept an understood distance

from neighbors, untouchable,


a caste kept to the exit rows on airplanes

assumes the necessity for order


before dislocated rivets and bones

break from bodies arbitrary as letters


standing alone in Arabic: A not S, O not N

set apart by design revealing where they are


not where they’re going. L nudging B or T,

squeezes their sides, physicality


taken for granted like bumping into people

and boys holding one another’s pinkies.





Elba in June Without Tourists

would have been preferable to Jehovah digging in his Old Testament heels,

nodding at the pillar of salt and spousal disobedience in Sodom, as if history

didn’t make Assad nervous enough, this pile of stones as read by an Italian

archaeologist could be the very stuff of war, or at least guerilla action,

the Massad sneaking across the border and scooping out new territory,

carrying off armfuls of Syria and rewriting it as if it were Roman.

All those clay tablets, records of what came in and what went out, words.




This Year’s Living Legend


Mario Vargas Llosa

bows his head

for a thick ribbon

with a shiny medal,

accepts applause,

and says,

“I do not want to die dead,”

the weight on his chest

not to be mistaken

for his working heart.

He’s eighty this week–

his new novel

a gauntlet.

It’s no December Dean.

But discreet, like his hero

with plans, a rebel

to epitaphs of praise

for what’s past.