Featured

“still life–color study” — t’ai freedom ford

       July 13, 2013

Saturday afternoon: in the driveway between buildings they blow up
balloons—yellow, red, blue—for a 3-year-old’s party.

The intermittent pops startle me like random gunfire—remind me
of birthdays brown boys will no longer celebrate.

The DJ, having set up the speakers, begins to play—the music, a rapid fire
of bass thump, commandeers the apartment. We have no choice but leave.

An art show: canvases colored with boxes and lines—a grid of red
on a backdrop of yellow. We speak of the abstract with wine in our mouths.

Meanwhile, in an antechamber, six are sequestered. They speak of mali-
cious intent, blood, evidence, testimony—murder versus manslaughter.

We arrive home to a throng of brown bodies, hands clutching red cups,
and music: its insistent treble stabbing the ears.

Inside, we slam all windows, but the music still blares as my niece shoots
people on the video game—its sounds are too realistic to bear.

Instead, the news, a verdict is in: not guilty. And everything is a blur
of sound, my heart beating so fast I put a hand to my chest.

I watch the TV screen: a collage of abstractions—spotlights, microphones,
smiles, handwritten signs. I stare, as if it were a painting—

a smear of twisted faces smothered in gesso and oil, a grid of red
on a backdrop of yellow—to make sense of.

The party continues. The 3-year-old probably in bed dreaming of melted
ice cream, and I am tired of partying.

There is a police station a half block away and I want it to burn. Instead,
only the smoke of weed, the meaningless music droning on,

the popping of balloons. Sunday morning, the birds are angry—their
chirping a noisy chant: NO NO NO NO. Outside, the rubbery flesh

of balloons color the driveway like splotches of paint. In an instant,
those still lives of heave and breath—gone in a pop.

Featured

“White Power” — Major Jackson

As it happened, I was twirling a cauliflower floret,
lost in Lewis’s wardrobe of pallid trees,
considering my country’s longing for homogenized milk
& bags of tube socks from Walmart,
which felt cancerous. What came to me like a surprise
snowfall in the soft evening of a snow globe,
one has to pinch salt and sprinkle in the palm,
repeatedly, especially when the temperature in mother’s
   trailer
has begun to drop. In this way, after your Constitution fades
you’ve your own hourglass and no one else to blame.

Featured

“In a U-Haul North of Damascus” — David Bottoms

1
Lord, what are the sins
I have tried to leave behind me? The bad checks,
the workless days, the scotch bottles thrown across the fence
and into the woods, the cruelty of silence,
the cruelty of lies, the jealousy,
the indifference?

What are these on the scale of sin
or failure
that they should follow me through the streets of Columbus,
the moon-streaked fields between Benevolence
and Cuthbert where dwarfed cotton sparkles like pearls
on the shoulders of the road. What are these
that they should find me half-lost,
sick and sleepless
behind the wheel of this U-Haul truck parked in a field on Georgia
45
a few miles north of Damascus,
some makeshift rest stop for eighteen wheelers
where the long white arms of oaks slap across trailers
and headlights glare all night through a wall of pines?

2
What was I thinking, Lord?
That for once I’d be in the driver’s seat, a firm grip
on direction?

So the jon boat muscled up the ramp,
the Johnson outboard, the bent frame of the wrecked Harley
chained for so long to the back fence,
the scarred desk, the bookcases and books,
the mattress and box springs,
a broken turntable, a Pioneer amp, a pair
of three-way speakers, everything mine
I intended to keep. Everything else abandon.

But on the road from one state
to another, what is left behind nags back through the distance,
a last word rising to a scream, a salad bowl
shattering against a kitchen cabinet, china barbs
spiking my heel, blood trailed across the cream linoleum
like the bedsheet that morning long ago
just before I watched the future miscarried.

3
Jesus, could the irony be
that suffering forms a stronger bond than love?
Now the sun
streaks the windshield with yellow and orange, heavy beads
of light drawing highways in the dew-cover.
I roll down the window and breathe the pine-air,
the after-scent of rain, and the far-off smell
of asphalt and diesel fumes.

But mostly pine and rain
as though the world really could be clean again.

Somewhere behind me,
miles behind me on a two-lane that streaks across
west Georgia, light is falling
through the windows of my half-empty house.
Lord, why am I thinking about all this? And why should I care
so long after everything has fallen
to pain that the woman sleeping there should be sleeping alone?
Could I be just another sinner who needs to be blinded
before he can see? Lord, is it possible to fall
toward grace? Could I be moved
to believe in new beginnings? Could I be moved?

“Modern Times” – Nicanor Parra

These are calamitous times we’re living through
you can’t speak without committing a contradiction 
or keep quiet without complicity with the Pentagon.
Everyone knows there’s no alternative possible
all roads lead to Cuba
but the air is dirty
breathing is a futile act.
The enemy says
the country is to blame
as if countries were men.
Accursed clouds circle accursed volcanos 
accursed embarkations launch accursed expeditions
accursed trees crumble on accursed birds:
it was all polluted to begin with.

“Diary [The First Seed]” – Rachel Zucker

He gives me the wedding band of the real world
a story with pockets and mirrors

woos me with music that could kill insects
its frequency

reveals men in the distance forging the bridge
between nether and either

when night sets, the stones return to the earth

and in the morning, work again:
swimming through chaos to find the world

 

 

 

 

From Eating in the Underworld. Copyright © 2003 Rachel Zucker.

“Anthracite” – Saeed Jones

A voice mistook for stone,
jagged black fist

thrown miles through space, through
doors of dark matter.

Heard you crack open the field’s skull
where you landed.

Halo of smoke ruined the sky
and you were a body now

naked and bruised in the cratered cotton.
Could have been a meteorite

except for those strip-mined eyes, each
a point of fossilized night.

Bringing water and a blanket,
I asked, “Which of your lives is this,

third or fifth?” Your answer, blues
a breeze to soak my clothes

in tears. With my palm pressed
to your lips, hush. When they hear

you, they will want you. Beware
of how they want you;

in this town everything born black
also burns.
 

From Prelude to Bruise. Copyright © 2014 Saeed Jones.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” – Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

“Door in the Mountain” – Jean Valentine

Never ran this hard through the valley

never ate so many stars

 

I was carrying a dead deer

tied on to my neck and shoulders

 

deer legs hanging in front of me

heavy on my chest

 

People are not wanting

to let me in

 

Door in the mountain

let me in

James Baldwin said (2)

“I read everything. I read my way out of the two libraries in Harlem by the time I was thirteen. One does learn a great deal about writing this way. First of all, you learn how little you know. It is true that the more one learns the less one knows. I’m still learning how to write. I don’t know what technique is. All I know is that you have to make the reader see it. This I learned from Dostoyevsky, from Balzac.”