Poetry by Britt Peter

February 17th, 2012

Red Allen





Mocking bird has heard

Too much Coltrane

High in our walnut tree

The fervor is there

Chromatic escapades

Bird honks

Direct pronouncements

So loud; a masterful annoyance

An edgeless song

At the Blackhawk



Sitting across the table

From George Shearing

How lucky!

Listening to John Lewis, the MJQ

The rope of listening

Palpable listening; nothing missed

“Ah, a taste of Tatum, there”

And more; John whittling away

Into new dimensions, angles

Beyond the scope

Of a mere vinyl recording

“Bags”, now; felt constructions

Percy’s austere demeanor

Connie’s chimes and

George’s light hip smile

Through smoke, across the table




“Why are your tastes so black?”

We were listening to Jimmy Yancey

Rolling bass, and the tap dancer’s

Staccato asides, worker’s hands

The successful boy asked again

“Why are your tastes so black?”.

He was bothered, out of his depth

Used to choosing not digging

Castles won’t topple, stocks will

Remain steady, the academy is secure

How could I tell him that

Rap on the snare rim, walking bass

I discovered Bessie Smith before

Doris Day

Blues at Sugar Hill



Mama Yancey, no bigger

Than a moment

But the whole town

Came out to hear her

“Pops” Foster, “Big Boy”, Wellman Braud

The frail oracle at the bow

Of the piano

Jersey patterned dress

Like my grandmother wore

Belting out not just any

Song blues, but real blues

Piney woods, train platforms

Anguish and creosote

Damn, make a postage stamp

Of that!

Pony at Jimbo’s Bop City



Pony, un-tethered alto
Breathing, singing
A stream of mind
From the bell of the horn
“I’ve never been this far out before”
Loving the fact that
“Sputnik” and McKibbon
Are on the pier, the ply board stage
“I can hear them back there”
The sea gulls crying accidentals
Living within a bubble of sound
Pushing air out against the
Watching eye, the shuffle of chairs
In the basement club
Extend the line
“Go, Pony—Go Pony”
“They are goading me now
Yeah, from tree to tree
Like Tarzan in tune
No, like Bird (well, not quite)
Like a bird: tree to tree
Port to Port: New Orleans to K.C.”
Further , breathing out
To the sands of the continent’s edge
Skipping over the high point
In waves, estuaries flooded
Piers shake
“Sputnik” is gassed, Big Al laughs
Bass and snair
Ride out chorus; stop
Starfish applause

-For Pony Poindexter, 1926-1988





North Beach evening
Listening to Lonnie Johnson
Through an open door
I didn’t have enough money
To go in
Car noise took away
Many of the notes
Gold lame jacket, single spot
He was playing Leroy Carr
And Gershwin tunes
Rhapsody in continuum
Musician, minstrel
As if to say
“More people should hear this”


Just Diggin’



We were up in the balcony
Old Oakland Auditorium
Listening to Mahalia Jackson
Singing “Dig a Little Deeper in God’s Love”
A room more used to auto shows
And Roller Derby
The upright piano jumping off the floor
Did she say
“…Storehouse of his love”? Yeah!
Round again, shovels in the spotlights
DDig a little deeper…”
Two old sisters just behind us
Sunday silk and big handbags
Said: “Those boys must be here
Just for the music”





Cold Gig



It’s not easy
To turn a TV studio
Into a barrelhouse
Large cameras, boxed eyes
Cables everywhere; concrete floor
Studs Turkel served free beer and pretzels; talk
And we have a few old clips
Of Henry “Red” Allen
Musician’s tux, big chest
Patent leather shoes
Standing on the tips of his toes
Leaning into it
To get some high notes
Or a growl
“Let her rip, wamp, wamp!”




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