October 1, 2014

Cut No Lilies, a gospel song by an imaginary writer

(This is a gospel song by Esmee,
a character in the novel-in-progress,
Finding Color. She’s borrowed a lyrical
theme from a spiritual that originates
in the Carolinas of 1820s. It’s written
for piano, choir, and congregation.)

Cut No Lilies

I run down the valley while I pray:
Jesus is dead and God’s gone away.
This I heard a man in a gray hat say.
He lies ’cause I need my God today.
He lies ’cause I need my God today.

We sing for the mothers and the children, too.
We sing for the mountains and the ocean blue.
There’s spirit in the lakes and the rocks and trees,
there’s the spirit every time I fall on my knees.

I fall on my knees because I need you so—
Please, son of Jesus, don’t let me go.
Don’t let me go. Don’t let me go.
Please, son of Jesus, don’t let me go.

Cut no lilies for me today:
this is not my cryin’ day.
Cut no lilies for me today:
this is not my cryin’ day.

(Art by Anne Abrams)

September 28, 2014

Position Needed, a poem for peace

Position Needed

United States Secretary of Peace:
an Executive Cabinet position to
be appointed by enlightenment
itself. This Secretary may not be
removed by any president ever.
Secretary of Defense answers to
Secretary of Peace who has veto
power over anything it says or does.
The United States Secretary of Peace
answers to no one but to peace itself. 

  (Photo by Anne Abrams)

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September 23, 2014

Paper and Bread, a poem to eat

Paper and Bread

Mother kneads bread at my elbow
as I trace my first word in flour dust.
My finger tip asks hot bread to melt
butter onto my lips, so I can beg more
stories from her than I can swallow.
I hope for 20,000 leagues of storms
to push away the tears of dreams.

I breathe in roast bread fumes as
she reads to me, but cello harmonies
imagine me better than Jules Verne.
I read stories inside her Bach suites
and when she fills me with enough
notes to stop the echoes in my head,
I sail onto safe oceans—alone.

Today, I write enough song stories
to keep Barbara Jane Krancher alive.
Her whisper speaks in this scratch
of pencil—her cello sings suites
to chocolate monsters in the fog.

Writing paper is bread. When I put
a pinch, dipped in oil, on my tongue,
its blankness draws me out—alone.

(Photo by Anne Abrams)

September 14, 2014

Secret Colors, 1830—a poem to gossip about

Secret Colors, 1830

As I walk towards the gray porch
of my father’s house, I want to cry.

After an afternoon with Esmee’s lips,
I see how ignorant is my happiness.
To learn it, my skin must turn black
and whip cuts on my back must bleed.
I love the
words unalienable rights,
but life in a gray Latin school and
life in a gray Sunday school is a
curse
without the living colors in
songs of my African girlfriend.

During my afternoon in a library
a history book tattles on America:
how a Revolutionary War teased
America free from King George.
It was an un-castled chess game
because the real war was against
the black folks who made us rich.
Tom Jefferson complained against
England importing African slaves,
but they gave him great wealth.

I spend afternoons with Esmee only
if I accept the hatred of every white
boy in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
If love is blind, seeing eyes are sad.
How can I open the door and live
again in my father’s gray world
while I hold her colors in secret?

September 9, 2014

Goose Mother, a falling poem

Goose Mother

Early in summer her higher calling fails:
her wings can no longer carry her south.
The god of geese requests she die alone—
her family shouldn’t stay behind to watch.
Today, the pond offers tasty water lilies and
coves to cruise, before the coyotes kill her.
Better that, than starve when the ice falls.

She watches her vee fly away and sleeps well,
but w
akes to noisy quacks from four ducklings
clever enough to call her mother. Theyve no choice.
Their mallard mother lost a battle to a shotgun blast,
so the goose guards the ducklings and they love her.
I have the biggest mom in the whole pond, says one.

All summer the ducklings grow as my love fails.
She’s tougher than a duck mother so they all live until
she must say a second goodby
e to one last vee of fliers.
There’s no mother for what ails me, so I lay a painter
on the bed in the cabin
at the pond. No shotgun blast
matches the ecstasy of revenge sex in afternoon sun,
but it heals nothing and no vee flies me homewards

(Painting by Anne Abrams)

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September 5, 2014

Our Negro Jesus, an abolitionist poem

Our Negro Jesus

It takes twenty-five million whites
to keep four million blacks in chains
because links of iron cannot hold us.
Race onwards to freedom, fugitives.
Heaven helps the righteous runaway
for Jesus awaits us in the wilderness.
The pride of wicked men has made
poor slaves their prey—let them die
by the sins they lay on us.

New Americans, make Jesus a refuge:
love enemies like family, be neighbors.
Love without judging, love all who love.
May slavers recognize true liberty holds
for those who sing affinities for all people.
Our prayers for freedom may have chains,
but we sing gospel drum songs while
the freedom of the grave awaits us all.

New Americans, make Jesus a refuge:
uncontrollable this way, we won’t obey.
Rebellion rises like the morning sun—
heat of truth and light of brotherhood.
They kill abolitionist pamphlet writers
while our negro Jesus saves us all.

    —A David Walker/William Wells Brown remix.

August 30, 2014

Cursed by Tom Jones, a poem to dance

Cursed by Tom Jones

I own freedom as a captive of the lost
so to laugh I touch what is forbidden.
Slavers of tradition don’t own me—
I connect to spirits who rise untamed
from a Celtic soul born of backbones
made for dance. I don’t sit cane-rigid
in latin lessons or sit still for sermons
made from threats against my soul,
but I do hear threats to my soul.

If prisons of tradition tie my feet, yet
I never stop dancing with white girls.
Curses from pagan gods save my life.
Your rules for good writing hold me
back less than chains around angels.

I danced with spring nymphs before
I ever crossed a cross with Pastor Joe.
I sang before I learned to say prayers,
so I inherit the red shirt and dance
on his grave as a proud bastard child.

August 24, 2014

Sister of Jesus, Gospel of Mine—a poem of liberation

Sister of Jesus, Gospel of Mine

Pounding chords lift our handclaps overhead
as the melody rises from our feet into our fingers.
Deliverance from pharaoh flows from Gramma’s lips
as she belts out a first verse and throws me the chorus.
From deep in her memory I hear the story of hounds
ripping skin from her only sister in a Carolina swamp.
Stories like these cannot be buried by a mound of soil
and the back of a family shovel to pat it smooth—
they need a cry-in-the-voice song with rolling hips.

When soldiers came for him, Jesus looked in their eyes
and forgave them. Our song doesn’t do that. Those men
knew what they did: Esmee was a sister to Jesus so
justice demands greater penance than shame.

I carry the name of Gram’s sister and her will to sing.
She will overcome, as I overcome. We sail together.
Jordan is alive across this river in Boston. We come.
Memories of whips cannot stop us now. We stand
with a cry-in-the-voice song and rolling hips.

August 19, 2014

Bats of Blues, a poem in black

Bats of Blues

I’m birthed down a runway of blues
from the black end of a cave, but
solitude is the bat I ride at night.
I don’t sleep in black—I hunt ghosts
with wings open and eyeteeth bared.

There’s no serenity like ink serenity
to grant me the silent attack I need
to quell my evil parts: close my claws,
fold lips over teeth to blunt the point,
and shed all that monotone clothing.
I love black letters that hug fingers.

I sling trickster melodies onto the words a
presidents use to increase body counts:
We few, happy band of brothers—no. Not
like children who sing of bombs bursting
without the irony our anthem craves.

Failing a save for all that, I pray to
sew wind hatched from polyrhythms
onto light from a sun too weak to blind.
May she carry one wing of hope to heal
not-so-amber waves of grain with beans
and the vitamins of syncopated melodies.

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August 4, 2014

Sonnet for Pigs, poem for humans

Sonnet for Pigs

The more I see human hands grovel—
the more I know pigs stand for humility.
They don’t bank, trade losses, or gamble—
they don’t gossip or call us liabilities.

Pigs read messages in webs of wise spiders,
don’t type gossip on Twittle or FaceLook.
They dream stories of Charlotte, the writer,
and put tongues in the trees and the brooks.

Many pigs die each year for our bacon—
but not pigs—only humans kill humans.
How long will it be before we awaken—
shoot no missiles at schools full of children?

The history of man is in archeological digs—
but the more I dig humans, the more I like pigs. 

(Painting by Anne Abrams)

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