“TATUM,” a poem by Michael Harper

May 22nd, 2006

Art Tatum

________________________

 

TATUM

by Michael Harper

I have recovered from your blindness
so fast your arpeggios

the world of Toledo is in slow motion
for you are holding back

from all your classical training
the image of Fats Waller frozen

in the blows that forced darkness
into cranial blows irreversible

you are your own orchestra
soft periods in your program

hard as the massage of your countrymen
“please return safely to your kin”

for you are a patriot
no matter discrimination

the virulent embers classical
in your repertoir: Columbus

every enemy’s empathy concerto
every friend a suite sonata

they say you loved trains
(gondolas locomotives a fuel line)

when you died in 1956
a whole cavalcade came with you

Robinson retired
Mays carrying his team

your love of baseball
in the signs missed and missing

 

*

John Forasté © Brown University

About Michael Harper

     Michael Harper is one of America’s most celebrated poets, having received honors and appointments from artistic organizations and academic institutions across the country, ranging from National Book Award to a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is much sought after for poetic readings, guest lectureships, and visiting professorships, and served as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1988 to 1993, and as Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University.

     His poetry is highly influenced by the music he loves: jazz and blues sound through the lines and often appear as inspiration, metaphor or rhythm in individual poems. His poetry is filled with references to his past; history, experience, and family are strong inspirations which reverberate throughout his work. His ancestry, to which he refers frequently, is filled with fascinating and inspirational individuals. Paraphrasing Ralph Ellison, Harper once said: “Relatives are people that you are born into, and have no choice about them. Ancestors are people you choose.” His ancestors live on and their voices can still be heard in the lines of his verse.

From Brown University Library

 

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