The last yellowed leaves
from the Norway maple spiral,
dive and pirouette to ground –
hours of raking pyramid after
pyramid, the tedium of stuffing
bag after bag, the impulse
to light a match, to resurrect
the late fall smells from boyhood –
April 3rd, 2013
Hudson and Landry 45, 1973 (drunks is funny)
Bowling alley lounge
We’re served our burgers
Served our cokes
We laugh and horse
Enough to be warned
We’re not one-tenth as loud as the adults
We also did not vanquish Hitler,
Precious quarters, Vegas addict,
February 26th, 2013
MONK WAS RIGHT
( A letter to Thelonius Monk )
I first heard you
In the darkness of stinky music rooms, toe-tappers’ tombs
where out-of-tone tunes played,
and where you prayed to the God of old blue smoke
to please choke the life out of those who said jazz was a joke,
February 22nd, 2012
ELEGY FOR HART, IN THE KEY OF CRANE
The pipe-organ sea on-drones a dirge for you
as it will for the last whale’s final soundings.
Deep in the ocean’s heart, Hart has found a home.
Before his final voyage, from the shore he watched
the breakers as they slipped each blow, master
February 10th, 2012
Naming of Hops
(July 30, 2009)
Today there will be naming of hops.
Today they’ll have a beer outside
the oval office of the White House.
Likewise our planet rotates with an oval orbit
around the sun of no determinate God,
whose purity and innocence informs
the white bars on the American flag.
January 12th, 2012
JUST ANOTHER PUNK ROCKER WRITING ABOUT JAZZ
They must have materialized at the open mike
out of carbon and nitrogen in the air,
those poets you’d never see in a jazz club.
A guy in Roman-helmet-like Mohawk
reads three-chord rhymes about Mingus,
an MC in Phat Farm jeans
November 14th, 2011
Comprehension of Music
You understand me
every emotion that’s buried into my heart
that lives in my soul trying to find
the right way to express itself to a world
that lacks true understanding of someone’s feelings
so I turn to you to create life into misunderstanding
and o how I love how you grasp it
September 7th, 2011
Crouching Sofa, Hidden Remote
Culprit Philosophy our kids behold
Media shuns us into our cold world
Therapeutic weapons couldn’t wrestle them all and
The broken lids, Therapeutic guns penetrate
Their anti-establishment walls, which crawl
With love shattered kids
June 19th, 2011
Does god play the ribs of a starving infant
In the Sudan like the kalimbe you
Can buy in the gift shop in the airport
Where tourists, doctors, murderers come and go
And we know nothing of their destinations or their
Motivations? Does god play on the bald head
July 4th, 2010
Baffled sound distinguishes each instrument.
Oblational as bread and wine, the symphony is offered up
Daliance with obligatory matters has no place here.
Abiotic as a stone, the tone still is lively:
cabaret saxophone and trumpet indiscretion.
February 2nd, 2010
Something You Can Count On
I had, once, a Captain Midnight ring
that told the weather, or so they said.
Frankly, I don’t remember Captain Midnight,
didn’t listen to him much.
Don’t know what made him special,
what made him Captain Midnight, for that matter.
But I didn’t need to, knew in my 1947 heart of hearts
December 27th, 2009
TRIMMING THE UNKNOWN
I open the door to the jetsam of black curls
Cast into a linoleum sea
As fluorescent light glints off scissors and smiles.
Smelling the shaving cream and my own fear,
I sit in a distant chair and pick up a magazine,
Glance up from time to time
December 22nd, 2009
Pantoum: Carson McCullers and Misanthropy at Yaddo
An odd child, I sprawled in bed, conjured her square pale face,
Propelled myself into her enormous dark eyes
And imagined, for years, that I curled inside her mind.
At Yaddo I drank sherry from a thermos, strode lank-legged
March 22nd, 2009
An overgrown trail is abruptly halted by a set of rusting metal gates,
Secured to a crooked post by a battered padlock and feeble chain.
A grey guard tower lies out of sight, studying the unfolding scene intently,
From the dense undergrowth where fresh raindrops glisten in the new-born sunlight.
January 22nd, 2009
Pondering the Musical Style of Thelonious Monk
January 4th, 2009
My father was a Catholic jazz musician
Say one Our Father, two Hail Marys,
and listen to twelve recordings of John Coltrane.
Dip your fingers in the font of holy water,
make your way to a pew,
genuflect, take your seat,
and meditate on the perfection of Thelonious chords.
August 6th, 2008
BLACK SONG FOR BILLIE HOLIDAY
The night the blue saxophones died
You still remain in the spotlight’s ivory heat
A riddle that puzzles the heart
Snatching from the soil of catastrophe
A nugget of perfect sound
Glowing like an iridescent candle
January 5th, 2008
MATCHBOOK: The Spinnaker (Sausalito)
in memory of Bill Evans
by Michael Harper
Adrift in your own spittle
(eyebrows on vibrato knuckles)
we are across the bay
but reality hits in waves...
May 22nd, 2007
FOR COUNT BASIE
On this day, your birthday, I want
to celebrate, although you passed last
century. I crave some birthday cake,
so I put on “One O’clock Jump”
one more time to soothe my soul, allow
your fingers to loosen my tight, sore
muscles that have taken hold, the ones
February 22nd, 2007
9 23 99: Coltrane Notes on the Millenium
by Michael Harper
no protection still
that is not churchdriven
James Weldon Johnson’s alternate tune
January 22nd, 2007
The Life of Jackie Mclean
by Michael Harper
A critic trying to pass writes me about crossover played some
couldn’t make it got his Ph. D
(he’s onto new changes an advance man now active in grants
August 8th, 2006
“Born Into a World Knowing”
This will happen
Oh god we say just give
me a few more
and don’t let it be
August 1st, 2005
Because I Am
In mem. Sidney Bechet, 1897-1959
Because I am a memorious old man
I’ve been asked to write about you, Papa Sidney,
Improvising in standard meter on a well-known
Motif, as you did all those nights in Paris
And the world. I remember once in Chicago
June 29th, 2005
Soul Make a Path Through Shouting
for Elizabeth Eckford
Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957
Thick at the schoolgate are the ones
Rage has twisted
Into minotaurs, harpies
So you must walk past the pincers,
October 17th, 2004
Between Two Wars
Remember that breakfast one November —
Cold black grapes smelling faintly
Of the cork they were packed in.
Hard rolls with hot, white flesh,
And thick, honey sweetened chocolate?
And the parties at night; the gin and the tangos?
The torn hair nets, the lost cuff links?
April 29th, 2002