Wednesday, May 14, 2014


     No-Good Blues




I try to hide in Proust,
Mallarme, & Camus,
but the no-good blues
come looking for me. Yeah,
come sliding in like good love
on a tongue of grease & sham,
built up from the ground.
I used to think a super-8 gearbox
did the job, that a five-hundred-dollar suit
would keep me out of Robert Johnson's
shoes. I rhyme Baudelaire
with Apollinaire, hurting
to get beyond crossroads & goofer
dust, outrunning a twelve-bar
pulsebeat. But I pick up
a hitchhiker outside Jackson.
Tasseled boots & skin-tight
jeans. You know the rest.



I spend winter days
with Monet, seduced
by his light. But the no-good
blues come looking for me.
It takes at least a year
to erase a scar
on a man's heart. I come home nights
drunk, the couple next door
to keep me company, their voices
undulating through my bedroom wall.
One evening I turn a corner
& step inside Bearden's Uptown
Sunday Night Session. Faces
Armstrong blew from his horn
still hang around the Royal Gardens—all
in a few strokes, & she suddenly leans out of
a candy-apple green door & says,
Are you from Tougaloo?




At the Napoleon House
Beethoven's Fifth draws shadows
from the walls, & the no-good blues
come looking for me. She's here,
her left hand on my knee.
I notice a big sign
across the street that says
The Slave Exchange.
She scoots her chair closer.
I can't see betrayal
& arsenic in Napoleon's hair—
they wanted their dying emperor
under the Crescent City's
Double Scorpio. But nothing
can subdue these African voices
between the building's false floors,
this secret song from the soil
left hidden under my skin.




Working swing shift at McGraw-
Edison, I shoot screws
into cooler cabinets as if I were born
to do it. But the no-good blues come
looking for me. She's from Veracruz,
& never wears dead colors of the factory,
still in Frida Kahlo's world of monkeys.
She's a bird in the caged air.
The machines are bolted down
to the concrete floor,
everything moves with the same big
rhythm Mingus could get out of
a group. Humming the syncopation
of punch presses & conveyor belts,
work grows into our dance
when the foreman
hits the speed-up button
for a one-dollar bonus.




My hands are white
with chalk at The Emporium
in Colorado Springs, but the no-good
blues come looking for me. I miscue
when I look up & see sunlight
slanting through her dress
at the back door. That shot
costs me fifty bucks.
I let the stick glide along the V
of two fingers, knowing men who
wager their first born to conquer
snowy roller coasters & myths.
I look up, just when
the faith drains out of
my right hand. It isn't
a loose rack. But more like—
well, I know I'm in trouble
when she sinks her first ball.




I'm cornered at Birdland
like a two-headed man hexing
himself. But the no-good blues
coming looking for me. A prayer
holds me in place,
balancing this sequined
constellation. I've hopped boxcars
& thirteen state lines to where
she stands like Ma Rainey.
Gold tooth & satin. Rotgut
& God Almighty. Moonlight
wrestling a Texas-jack.
A meteor of desire burns
my last plea to ash. Blues
don't care how many tribulations
you lay at my feet, I'll go
with you if you promise
to bring me home to Mercy.


Yusef Komunyakaa


a tribute to Charlie Parker

with new and selected jazz poems

(Wesleyan 2013)