Tuesday, August 31, 2021



Van Morrison is 75 years old here
both belting out songs as singer
and blowing sax —
today is his 76th birthday
August 31, 1945

Monday, August 30, 2021


When Black Men Drown Their Daughters

When black, men drown. They spend their whole lifetimes
justifying the gall of springing the trap, the inconvenience
of slouched denim, of coupling beyond romance or aim.
All the while, the rising murk edges toward their chins.
Hurriedly, someone crafts another scientific tome, a giddy
exploration of the curious dysfunction identifying black
men first as possible, then as necessary. Elegant equations
succumb to a river that blurs quotient and theory, rendering
them unreadable, and the overwhelm easily disappears
the men, their wiry heads glistening, then gulped. All that’s
left is the fathers’ last wisdom, soaked wreckage on silver:
Girl, that water ain’t nothing but wet. I’m gon’ be alright.
When black men drown, their daughters turn to their mothers
and ask What should I do with this misnamed shiver in my
left shoulder? How should I dress in public? They are weary
of standing at the shore, hands shading their eyes, trying
to make out their own fathers among the thousands bobbing
in the current. The mothers mumble and point to any flailing
that seems familiar. Mostly, they’re wrong. Buoyed by church
moans and comfort food of meat and cream, the daughters
try on other names that sound oddly broken when pressed
against the dank syllables of the fathers’. Drained, with just
forward in mind, they walk using the hip of only one parent.
They scratch in their sleep. Black water wells up in the wound.
When black men drown, their daughters are fascinated with
the politics of water, how gorgeously a surface breaks
to receive, how it weeps so sanely shut. And the thrashing
of hands, shrieking of names: I was Otis, I was Willie Earl,
they called me Catfish. Obsessed by the waltzing of tides,
the daughters remember their fathers—the scorch of beard
electrifying the once-in-a-while kiss, the welts in thick arms,
eyes wearied with so many of the same days wedged behind
them. When black men drown, their daughters memorize all
the steps involved in the deluge. They know how long it takes
for a weakened man to dissolve. A muted light, in the shape
of a little girl, used to be enough to light a daddy’s way home.
When black men drown, their daughters drag the water’s floor
with rotting nets, pull in whatever still breathes. They insist their
still-dripping daddies sit down for cups of insanely sweetened
tea, sniffs of rotgut, tangled dinners based on improbable swine.
The girls hope to reacquaint their drowned fathers with the concept
of body, but outlines slosh in drift and retreat. The men can’t get
dry. Parched, they scrub flooded hollows and weep for water
to give them name and measure as mere blood once did. Knocking
over those spindly-legged dinette chairs, they interrupt the failed
feast and mutter Baby girl, gotta go, baby gotta go, their eyes
misted with their own murders. Grabbing their girls, they spit
out love in reverse and stumble toward the banks of some river.
When black men drown their daughters, the rash act is the only
plausible response to the brain’s tenacious mouth and its dare: Yes, 
yes, open your ashed hands and release that wingless child. Note
the arc of the sun-drenched nosedive, the first syllable of the child’s
name unwilling from the man’s mouth, the melody of billow that
begins as blessed clutch. Someone crouching inside the father waits
impatiently for the shutting, the lethargic envelop, and wonders if
the daughter’s wide and realizing eye will ever close to loose him.
It never will, and the man and his child and the daughter and her
father gaze calmly into the wrecked science of each other’s lives.
The sun struggles to spit a perfect gold upon the quieting splash.
The river pulses stylish circles of its filth around the swallow.

Patricia Smith
from Incendiary Art
TriQuarterly Books / Northwestern University Press

Saturday, August 28, 2021



R E A D      M E

The newly discovered Richard Wright novel The Man Who Lived Underground is a quiet and simple beauty. The novel could have been dedicated to George Floyd it’s that immediate and topical. The visionary was on top of his game 1940-1945: Native Son, The Man Who Lived Underground and Black Boy. Native Son riveted me fifty years ago, much more than Invisible Man, and this new book discovery may be the one Wright is remembered for. Started out as a short story that was later lengthened but probably too modern and basic for a publisher at the time to realize what they had. Library of America has now published the book. I read the book in one-sitting. Couldn’t help myself.

[ BA ]


The Library of America




R E A D      M E

Amistad, 2020

Friday, August 27, 2021



On Antiphon Island

—“mu” twenty-eighth part—

   On Antiphon Island they lowered
the bar and we bent back. It
  wasn’t limbo we were in albeit
       we limbo’d. Everywhere we
                                                   went we
  limbo’d, legs bent, shoulder
   blades grazing the dirt,
andoumboulouous birth-shirts,
    sweat salting the silence
 we broke... Limbo’d so low we
     fell and lay looking up at
   the clouds, backs embraced by
       ground and the ground a fallen
  we were ambushed by... Later we’d
      sit, sipping the fig liqueur, beckoning
 sleep, soon-come somnolence nowhere
     come as yet. Where we were, not-
withstanding, wasn’t there...

                                             Where we
  were was the hold of a ship we were
      in. Soaked wood kept us afloat... It
wasn’t limbo we were in albeit we
    limbo’d our way there. Where we
 were was what we meant by “mu.”
     we were was real, reminiscent
  arrest we resisted, bodies briefly
 held on

     “A Likkle Sonance” it said on the
record. A trickle of blood hung
    overhead I heard it spurts. An
  introvert trumpet run, trickle of
      A trickle of water lit by the sun
        I saw with an injured eye, captive
  music ran our legs and we danced...
bent, asses all but on the floor, love’s
      bittersweet largesse... I wanted
   trickle turned into flow, flood,
        two made one by music, bodied
          gone up into air, aura, atmosphere
              the garment we wore. We were on
            a ship’s deck dancing, drawn in a
    above hold... The world was ever after,
Where we were they said likkle for little, lick
     ran with trickle, weird what we took it
  for... The world was ever after, elsewhere,
  way where we were
was there

Nathaniel Mackey
from Splay Anthem
New Directions, 2002

Thursday, August 26, 2021





Roman Poem Number Thirteen

                                             For Eddie

Only our hearts will argue hard

against the small lights letting in the news

and who can choose between the worst possibility

and the last

between the winners of the wars against the breathing

and the last

war everyone will lose

and who can choose between the dry gas

domination of the future

and the past

between the consequences of the killers

and the past

of all the killing? There

is no choice in these.

Your voice

breaks very close to me my love.


June Jordan

Directed By Desire

Collected Poems

Copper Canyon Press


Wednesday, August 25, 2021






Eastern guard tower 
glints in sunset; convicts rest 
like lizards on rocks. 

The piano man 
is stingy, at 3 A.M. 
his songs drop like plum. 

Morning sun slants cell. 
Drunks stagger like cripple flies 
On jailhouse floor. 

To write a blues song 
is to regiment riots 
and pluck gems from graves. 

A bare pecan tree 
slips a pencil shadow down 
a moonlit snow slope. 

The falling snow flakes 
Cannot blunt the hard aches nor 
Match the steel stillness. 

Under moon shadows 
A tall boy flashes knife and 
Slices star bright ice. 

In the August grass 
Struck by the last rays of sun 
The cracked teacup screams. 

Making jazz swing in 
Seventeen syllables AIN’T 
No square poet’s job. 

Etheridge Knight
 from The Essential Etheridge Knight
University of Pittsburgh Press 1986

Tuesday, August 24, 2021