“The first time I heard the expression ‘baby’ used by one cat to address another was up at Warwick in 1951. Gus Jackson used it. The term had a hip ring to it, a real colored ring. The first time I heard it, I knew right away I had to start using it. It was like saying, ‘Man, look at me. I’ve got masculinity to spare.’ It was saying at the same time to the world, ‘I’m one of the hippest cats, one of the most uninhibited cats on the scene. I can say ‘baby’ to another cat, and he can say ‘baby’ to me, and we can say it with strength in our voices.’ If you could say it, this meant that you really had to be sure of yourself, sure of your masculinity.” —Claude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land
(from an ongoing series of Boston transit riders)
If I were young my hands would hurt
by dawn from paddling. I would make
the worn smooth oar suddenly crude
by my touch, novice yet strong enough
to send me across the width of the lake.
Instead, these fishing nets I throw,
one here, by the hidden cove, one further,
near a jetty where the tourists swim,
are not my grandfather’s, but my own.
In truth I tend to sit in the evenings
with my friends, sharing wire and thread,
and mend the day’s snags with rice wine.
Of course, I do not survive like this.
These waters gemming the mouth
of our hushed volcano bear few fish.
I know I couldn’t last without selling
hash to the tourists. It’s funny how
often when they wade out to my boat
they ask about my fishing technique,
the way I slap the water with my oar.
I tell them in our culture a hunter must
warn its prey, and I hope as they read
Tolstoy and get stoned in their rooms
they will consider this. Sometimes,
to drive my point home I say it’s like
steam before the lava blows. I say it’s
all primordial, and they pretend to care.
(Words and image by © Chris Bronsk. Old poem + new image. Why not?)
“The axe of the wood-cutter, the measured thud of a single threshing-flail, the crowing of chanticleer in the bard-yard, (with invariable responses from other bard-yards,) and the lowing of cattle—but most of all, or far or near, the wind—through the high tree-tops, or through low bushes, laving one’s face and hands so gently, this balmy-bright noon, the coolest for a long time (Sept. 2)—I will not call it sighing, for to me it is always firm stance, cheery expression, though a monotone, giving many varieties, or swift or slow, or dense or delicate. The wind in the patch of pine woods off there—how sibilant. Or at sea, I can imagine it this moment, tossing the waves, with spirits of foam flying far, and the free whistle, and the scent of the salt—and that vast paradox somehow with all its action and restlessness conveying a sense of eternal rest.” —Walt Whitman, “Distant Sounds,” Specimen Days
(“I will not call it sighing…” No, call it singing. The link above on the book title takes you to an excerpt in Slate of Leslie Jamison’s lovely introduction to the recently issued Melville House edition of Specimen Days and Collect.)
WHITE, WHITE COLLARS
We work in this building and we are hideous
in the fluorescent light, you know our clothes
woke up this morning and swallowed us like jewels
and ride up and down the elevators, filled with us,
turning and returning like the spray of light that goes
around dance-halls among the dancing fools.
My office smells like a theory, but here one weeps
to see the goodness of the world laid bare
and rising with the government on its lips,
the alphabet congealing in the air
around our heads. But in my belly’s flames
someone is dancing, calling me by many names
that are secret and filled with light and rise
and break, and I see my previous lives.
—Denis Johnson, The Incognito Lounge
(This photograph is from Visitors, an ongoing series of street photography taken on Boston’s mass transit.)
“Mingus is awakened by laughter. The girl called Sally stands over them throwing a purple satin spread across the couch—’At least you two could cover yourselves!’ He wonders fuzzily ‘How’d I get in here?‘ and reaches down to let the other half fall on Cindy, crouched asleep near his feet. ‘So you finally go the great Mingus!’ Sally cackles. ‘Now we won’t have to be listening every day, thank God, to how much he knocks you out!'” —Charles Mingus, Beneath the Underdog
(Back from a blogging break that became an absence. Good to be back.)
ANYTHING RATHER THAN AN ANGEL – Zbigniew Herbert
If after our death they want to transform us into a tiny withered flame that walks along the paths of winds—we have to rebel. What good is an eternal leisure on the bosom of air, in the shade of a yellow halo, amid the murmur of two-dimensional choirs?
One should enter rock, wood, water, the cracks of a gate. Better to be the creaking of a floor than shrilly transparent perfection.
FLAMENCO by Dean Young
The sexual gasps coming from the garden shed
of my friends turning twenty, tipsy
droll joke of my friends turning thirty, lost
car keys even with tied-to-them a silly whistle
turning forty, bullshit about September
the most passionate month fifty, bird-watching
nap my friends sixty, turning empty chair
at card-club on my friends turning, turning
while I remain unchanged, a peach pit,
still assisting an ant with a stick,
tapping a peanut to signal a squirrel,
a collection of eternal accidents
while the body, without pity, shrinks,
expands, noises coming from it like
trapped rabbits, sometimes muffled
xylophone, its liquids fermenting,
drunk on itself, dance just foot slams,
painting just spray and spill, brain commanding
its grit to become ruby, won’t, tears amniotic,
incinerated dust then an oblivious nephew
given my watch in a velvet sack,
my ghost eating mulberries in a tree,
still stained, my tyrannosaurus skull still
trying to poke through a mouse hole in the cosmos.
You remember the name was Jensen. She seemed old
always alone inside, face pasted gray to the window,
and mail never came. Two blocks down the Grubskis
went insane. George played rotten trombone
Easter when they flew the flag. Wild roses
remind you the roads were gravel and vacant lots
the rule. Poverty was real, wallet and spirit,
and each day slow as church. You remember threadbare
church groups on the corner, howling their faith
at stars, and violent Holy Rollers
renting that barn for their annual violent sing
and the barn burned down when you came back from war.
—Richard Hugo, from “What Thou Lovest Well Remains American”