Table of Contents - Vol. V, No. 4
all that could be done
has been done already
what had to be done
past becomes future
in her ears
say: I'm going to see
Loretta in Atlanta
get: I bet she was
surprised to see you
nothing to look forward to
but the past
those gone over
to the other side
to take her
Piloting captains of the airwaves,
you rise 70, 80, 100 floors
but go no higher, get nowhere
every day, day after day, over
and over, week in, year out.
As if you never were a Columbus
fleeing Georgia, zig zagging across
Europe, once Le Grand Duc du Jazz,
master of the square ring, or the
Black Swallow of Death in the skies
over France. Beneath the well-pressed
uniform, no one sees your medalled heart
still burning like the star-filled night,
the sharp eye sill capable of keeping secrets
beneath the tip of a polished cap.
Your flame still burns in Paris, free.
America had a left hook you didn’t
see coming to set you back into
what it called your place---
just another black man in a box
Awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery at the Battle of Verdun, Eugene Bullard (1895--1961) was the first black combat aviator, flying twenty missions for the French Air Corps and downing at least one German plane. In the late 1930s Bullard joined a French government counterintelligence network spying on Germans in Paris. When the Nazis conquered France in 1940, Bullard escaped to New York City with his family, where he worked in a variety of occupations, including his final job as an elevator operator at the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.
These entertainments are not art. They excite like machines, animals, landscapes, danger.
-- Jean Cocteau
Finally, you get to show them what you mean:
Do not play this fast. It is never right to play
Ragtime fast. If anything, the machine with its
clicking pens and electrical connections slows you
down even further, forces more precision, reveals
more from the jagged rhythms than most would catch
at normal speeds. More than most want to hear.
The engineer leans in to notate the dynamics of
your variations. the weight of your dark body
too heavy for America’s formal chairs. Instead
they will create a ghostly presence in their parlor
from an absence – rectangular holes cut into a long
white roll. Remain invisible and you are a welcome
light touch emanating from the corner.
No matter. Press down on the keys, create the black
marks later to be struck through the thick paper
to make sound. you are playing to some other place,
some different time, where you are more than just
the King of Ragged Time, but known for weaving
complex dreams and heartache into song, for the strange
turns in the tertiary melody: melancholy, intelligent,
introspective, as if someone caught a sudden glimpse of
a lone wall flower at the summer dance, waiting alone but proud,
knowing her turn will come, not yet, not now, but soon.
(for Christopher Stackhouse)
Everyone there reminds you of someone else---
that woman in the hotel bar’s the girl
you sat next to in kindergarten, those people
across the street look like the couple with four
bikes you helped outside Wal-Mart last Christmas.
The guy at the gas station always begging change
is here transformed into a banker, the bus driver
your first disastrous blind date in school. Names
gather at the tip of the tongue, refusing to go further.
you no longer look like yourself here,
but that other guy, that actor, singer, football player,
the priest who married your friend’s sister. The hoodlum
everyone mistakes you for.
Walking dusk’s quiet, rolled up streets,
you peer into glowing houses at set-for-dinner tables,
the backs of empty chairs, a flickering TV set
at the end of a long hall illuminated by long-held and -lost desires,
stare through the mirrored glass, searching for
the life you could have lead.
for Douglas Kearney
A black man’s got to have a private world.
“The Black and White Galaxie” -- Afaa Michael Weaver
or is it
below the surface
A mirrored dark
Martin Puryear: Self, 1978, stained and painted red cedar and mahogany,
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
© Reginald Harris