Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Last Of My Time Makes A City

the last of my time makes a city that fills
is filling now with all the music i have ever loved
sonatas for cellos & congas, for arpeggiones & oboes d’amore
choirs of saxophones, entire symphonies of scat & arias
in languages i’ve never learned but know the music of
this is where i live, this is how i feed, on memory
& melody whose fey structures surround me
whose architects have shaped my time

but perhaps i make too much demand of song. could
some other art better compose my summary years?
does the poem reach far enough / spread wide enough?
can i clear the stage of people whom i do not wish
to know? is the eye to be trusted after all
that it has seen? could my last city be well built
on canvas, its thoroughfares curving & arcing
in perspective up past the smokestacks & bridges
where the factions of my years lob color bombs
at each other across the boulevard? no & no
my last time is a swinging tune in a minor key
in a town built of timbre, with lithe ethnic dancers
& a hell of a band


i have come so very far & gone nowhere, memory wearied
long ago & now rests with my youth at the start of paths
old runaways like nat turner wore across the Great Dismal Swamp
where my home town floated. cottonmouth & cohorts
of nocturnal forest felons hunted & mated there
so much leaf over the eye & under the foot
loam so alive each fallen twig bored down roots
vast orchestras of birds sang of me & other peripatetic
tourists of the swamp. the summer sun blinked down
its checkerboard patterns according to the whims
of breeze & leaf & i was domiciled with my serenity
until the perfidious dark chased me home

my city walk is no less shaded by time & euphony
(the birds sing a cappella here) no less the habitat
of hunters & prey. i know where the ocean is
can smell it from here, can find the houses where
the specters of my loves reside, can shop for melodies
of every shade of humankind. some days my wealth
enlarges me, for i own treasures as short as
a four beat phrase or as long as that string of 16th notes
that trilled through my head just now. you i value
most of all for the billowing love that let you read
this far. please describe for me the light
we met inside of. did our breath collide? i do not mind
that i can’t recall the cubist planes of your face
but when you spoke, how was your cadence tempered?
what was your favorite word?


in homer’s time they tracked the body’s hollows
for fumets of the soul. the colon seemed a likely host
which we can understand, but if their excavation
yielded one, what would they have done with it?
dyed it green & sealed it in an jar so natural philosophers
could worry it to death? nagged it for tutorials
in metaphysics until the poor thing bled ectoplasm?

i have read so much & learned so little. it’s not just
that age stutters the mind, that i can’t recall the sequence
of the presidents or where the peloponnesus is
it’s time’s obliteration of all those smart ideas
that could have cued my life; knit together they might have told me
how we came to live in this kakistocracy & how to lead us out
how history defies hegel & adopts the progress
of the cottonmouth, fanging & breeding & shedding
its odious skin as it slithers along. it’s that i can no longer
sing on key so what does it matter if i know ten thousand
songs? it’s that i can’t chant the tribal story like a griot
or think my pea green ass out of this goddamn jar


despite or because of all i remain a man
of song. there’s a boogie in my blood that palpitates
my body in the tempo of the present. in the presence
of my children who are wiser & more comely
than i my low bass voice projects a dust of summer
colors as far as its range will carry. unlike me
they have such perfect pitch they do not have to sing
to be understood. on the theme of karen
i blow a mellow blues of owing what i don’t know
how to pay. my vows swore me to clarify her dreams
pitch a brick into the eye of the cyclops that bars our way
& all i’ve done is compound a long confounding puzzle
even i have no solution for

so that’s the quest i’m off on now. i’ll drive
till the map runs out, fly till i reverse the globe
spin & spin till i’m dervish enough to improvise a song
that’s free of every image in this poem. transcribe that lyric
& you’ll have my answer

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