Thursday, May 28, 2009

farewell my friend & agemate


farewell my friend…
for reginald f. locket
1947-2008
farewell my friend & agemate
tho’ our paths like an ancient
river’s branches have paralleled &
crossed many times in our many
attempts “to front the essential
facts of life” & reach behond the
possible limits of attainable results…
tho’ sourced alike from boggy
emotional landscapes, fed & renewed
by the glacial melt of spirit, tellurian
surface runoff & free elysian water
flowing from elevated headwaters to
the sea.
tho’ u’ve slipped yr mortal coil,
it is not as tho’ u’ve flowed into the
ground or dried up completely. our
waters are joined; there are none
who have known u who do not
happily carry the weight of yr
verse, yr love of life & memory.
yr lifesong rings in my ears &
heart & i am full with the joy of
knowing u…
farewell, ole gansta poet,
farewell, my friend, adieu.

©Joseph McNair;2009

for k. curtis lyle



for k. curtis lyle
i say god great & good god
i say master living clear in
my mind this morning…
from "drunk on god"
i know good homily when i hear it,
i know good poetry when i read it ,
& i know the feathery godtouch
that comes when in the presence of
both; rippling efferent nerves,
making muscles move & glands
secrete, making organs quiesce. i
felt this when i first heard u read in
a los angeles salon in ‘77 where
gene redmond rocked, invaded the
nose & the mystical ojenke lassoed
butterflies. u took sylvester st.
elmo hope, possessed him, took his
head & rode him like a mississippi
mule; spoke thru’ him like an
oracle before he vanished in an
easter sunrise; u spoke thru him to
me, yr voice the sound of cowrie
shells falling on a divining tray. u
made me divinely drunk; made me
speak in perorating tongues lying
deep & dormant in me, the
vocalized thoughts of poets &
preachers; made me rise take up
my pen & write. yr spirit touched
my verse, put a healing on it &
filled it with the joyful noise of
those who shout & sing.

Joseph McNair; 2009

de mayor of harlem, still


de mayor of harlem, still
for david henderson
u are still de mayor of harlem; the
world echoes in yr lush voice still
haunt harlem’s streets in the
darkest part of shadow, where the
source of light is completely
concealed. u are the occulting body,
the go-between
& translator for
those
who prowl urban mindscapes
hungry & the intrepid few who want
to know about them. because u
know, have lively lived thru’

america’s permutations, those
sequences wherein human events
occur at best once, from new york
to berkeley, u can interpret for
those who have no vision outside
of center or those whose hyperopia
prevents them from
seeing anything
up close &
personal.
u still speak the language of the
moment & line the cages of yr
verse with it. u still point to the
light with yr sharp-pointed lifegiving
shock poems or those with the
dazzling waves & curls & cutbacks

of walter payton sweetness that
generate powerful momentum,

that upon reading make us glow/
grow, incandescent testimonies

against a dark present.

Joseph McNair; 2009

for laureate quincy troupe


for quincy troupe
bone bare voices
chewed skeletal choices
in fangs of piranha gales
spewing out slivers of raucous laughter
glinting bright as hard polished silver nails
from ‘snow & ice”
“can u play that instrument?” [monk
irritably asked a musician who
complained that the charts he had
written were too hard] “or are u just
pretending?”

u are like that, quincy, the true
craftsman. u demand so much of
those of us who emulate u & so
much more of yrself.

u stretch the poet in u with a conjure
hand, a magical manipulation of the
mechanics of verse which deform
reversibly under the stresses,
polyrhythms, intonations & macro--

metaphors
u use to free up the
music in language; the meaning in
significations, the soul in solilo-
quies,
to burn then build anew
constructs leading to new &
neoteric tongues.

pastmaster of form & poetic diction,
there is no gainsaying that always u
hit yr mark. like the blind zen
master who looses his darts into the
night & amuses himself by sending

someone to confirm what he already
knows, that the arrows are snug in a
tight cluster at the center of the
target.

u keep us guessing about the bag u
will come out of next, be it sestina
or sonnet, or classic villanelle; slick
phrase-turning, head-bending narra-
tives,
or something new & blue to
evict the vagrant double-entendre

living rent-free in our poet heads; to
relax the smooth muscles around
the arteries that supply blood to our
flaccid euphony; to fill that
emptiness with urgent, oracular
pleasure.

u have challenged me, laureate, u
have laid down charts that are hard
to play, but play them i will for they
take me down paths where u have
trod. i can never hope to catch u.

that’d be like reaching the age of a
living someone who is older than u.
besides, every time i reach some
place u’ve been, following the
syllables u left like bread crumbs

to mark the path, syllables, u say,
that are keys to new doorways of
freedom, i usually discover that u
left that place long ago.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

for ishmael reed


for ishmael reed
the shackled black, being torn in innocence
molded his advent through cyclical time
surging, flowing, rising falling time…
from “time & the eagle”
in a dream i beheld an ancient muse
whose eyes were deep like the
world’s great rivers; whose skin, the
blackest black, so like the materia
prima from whence came all
creative & created things, whose
voice did rumble like an ancient
thunder roiling in the bellies of
infinite clouds & standing with
him, another, whose countenance
seemed like that of a man; who
looked a lot like u, ishmael,
namesake of a prophet, who seemed
so full of grace.

the ancient bade u go with me, &
show me every secret thing. u took
me to when life began, when human
spirit lived within the verdant green &
rode time like a pristine river; when a
great power ruled, a lord of the sun,
whose name was ra. we stood
there, u & i, in the middle of the air, &
watched
his mighty sun boat sail through
that shadowland, watched him stand to
the front of that boat, blazing bright,
hawk-like watching for any sign of
change. u pointed out the powers on
the deck, for ra would never deign

to ride alone. sweet maat, who
always speaks the truth, anubis,
gaunt guardian & guide of the dead
& thrice great thoth among the
many passengers. & then i saw a
curious sight – one who seemed a
man among those gods, who looked
a lot like u, whose shifting visage,
fluid like the season change, transmo-
grified
from human to hawk to jackal to
frightful loup garou more
curious still,
he wore a dark brown
stetson hat on
top of a headdress
black feathers.

he wore twelve inch tall cowboy
boots made of black oiled cowhide
leather with spanish stitching, gray
stressed levis & a long sleeve, solid
red button-down oxford shirt & two
colt single action peacemakers
slung low on his hips. on a snakish
cord with a decorative clasp worn
around his neck hung several packet
kongos, gris gris bags & bones of
ju-ju snake. who was that dog-faced
man, i asked, that hoodoo cowboy
in ra’s boat? u laughed aloud at my
failure to accept the obvious.

it is i, u said, horus-returned. it is u,
the heroic poetic persona. it is every
poet, black & proud; the satirical
prophet, once exiled, now ready to
take on the divided self; chaos,
confusion, storm, wind & rain.
wake up, u said, so u can rock ra’s
boat & purge yrself of conditioning;
wake up so that u might restore yr
mystic vision & yr freedom. i did
wake up, moved from passivity to
agency, stepped up firmly, passed
resolutely into yr neo-hoodoo &
began to truly write.

Joseph McNair; 2009

for al young


for al young
the poet laureate of california
yr illuminating dissembling,
yr vaunted double-consciousness &
african/american entendre, yr folksy
exegesis, flavor the second language in
which u write. a master of form &
polyphonic voice, u animate & enliven yr
verse, yr songs, stories & yr characters
like an ethnic god toiling over a lump of
clay, breathing into those creations -- not
unlike the breathy riffs of ben webster or
coleman hawkins -- enigma, sanguine
intimacy & the dead ringer for life itself,
music. like sterling brown & langston
hughes before u, yr first language is the
blues, subversive, destructive, liberating;
the hoodoo stab of hurt, erectile hope &
abandonment's vacuum-–that space
wherein the pressure of living is sucked
out through holes in the soul making
screeching & honking sounds like john
coltrane turning a standard inside out; the
blues shapeshifting into odes, librettos,
sonnets & piano solos of percussive ideas
& phrasings; into the loveliness of poems
that keep & lives that don't.

Joseph McNair; 2009

the arkansippi bard


the arkansippi bard
for laureate eugene b. redmond
yr funky grace & coital insertion of rite,
remonstrance & rue into heavy bottomed
verse defines u; yr long poetic sight extends
yr call & response like an old landmark
liner hymn raises up & stretches out from
the storefront church to surreptitiously
caress the juke joint across the street.
u always loved to boogie, get down on the
flamefloor of desire. jump back, baby,
jump back! yr metered feet ablur with the
mixed choreography of the urban core, the
down home country & the academy.
yr stanzas abstracted, take their form, from
the spirit-sphere; are kaleidoscopic &
sparkling, revealing different views of
human life put together in ways that blend
the incongruous & contradictory in words
& images that express something different
from & often opposite to their verbal
visceral experience. i loved what you did
with words; what u still do, painting them
on airy canvases with the coarse brush of yr
voice, the palette knife of yr wit spreading
textured impasto sounds into sweeping
areas of flat as well as tiny shapes of
colorful speech.
well u deserve yr laurel wreath, a fitting
crown for one like u perpetuating the oral
& oracular, the spoken truths of family,
village & leaders of a people; singing
histories & tales of their triumphs, foibles
& infamy cloaked in the polysemy of their
speech; that mirror the rich & colorful
grayness of living; the reality ‘tween the
exit signs of black & white.

Joseph McNair;2009

for etheridge knight


for etheridge knight
& what do i do. i boil my tears in a twisted spoon
& dance like an angel on the point of a needle.
i sit counting syllables like midas gold…
from “violent space.”
by showing us the terrible toll that prison
takes & the harsh lurid lessons that prison
taught, yr poems gave us a window to yr
soul. & there were bars on that window;
common steel bars that contained but
could not obscure the beast pacing in its
cage, the deep, dangerous soft & low
growl, the thunderous high energy roar &
bared teeth that announced the freefloating
rage spawned by helplessness,
hopelessness & yes, intense immobilizing
fear. yr poetic lines, recurring memories
& flashbacks artfully crafted into words
& figures by a tendency toward impulse
violence -- against severely restricted
self-expression, against passive compliance
to oppression. yr syntax carried the
force of physical abuse; yr imagery, stark
like naked inmates stood up against their
cell doors, provoked a kind of surprise, a
recognition of having been tricked into
glimpsing yr vulnerability. u weren’t such
a hardass. what kind of gangsta could put
into words the angst & profound despair
for a lobotomized inmate or the way one
sadly, helplessly dies a little death each
time his woman leaves his bed to walk
the streets & work the johns or the fuck-
everything-&-run in nondirectional fear
when that same woman or any woman
leaves him for good? u gave me my many
there-but-for-the-grace-of-god moments
in poems that when cut did surely bleed
& i identified like most black men i know
on either side of prison bars. what kind of
gangsta? a black postmodern antihero
who flew over the prison walls of his
verse.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The making of a poet


the making of a poet
for amiri baraka at 70
the rocky mountain’s gateway yawned on a land rich in
lumber & hardworking white folks. i am sure they heard me
coming, the blue green streams, rich with yellow perch,
cutthroat trout, awaited the angler years before becoming
inflamed by contact with sewage, pcbs, lead, arsenic, zinc,
& cadmium. & the mountain trails carved by the civilian
conservation corps called out to the hiker, & the lakes in the
area out-numbered only by the coniferous trees growing
large & tall in the mountain sun – sang to the outdoors
lover. the problem was, i couldn’t hear them. i didn’t fish, i
hated hiking, & if the truth were told, i didn’t even like the
outdoors.

i came to spokane from the soon to be murder capital of the
country to play manhood making basketball & in the
process, go to college. i was a writer-in-the-making with
nothing much to write about. a chance encounter with an
image in a freshman english class – an andrew marvell carpe
diem enclosed a few lines i’d never heard, but made to me
exquisite sense; that
“worms shall try that long preserv'd virginity/yr
quaint honor turn to dust, / & into ashes all my
lust.”
i knew what the poet was talking about; up thrust my puerile
wishes into the womb of his verse dead three hundred years.
my eyes were opened wide. i saw & scried coition in every
man-wrought poem: in ejaculating bullets; in the prow of a
boat riding on the tide, moving in & out of the narrow
harbor slip; & in the pollinating power of a dripping
hummingbird’s bill.

i thought i was ready to write, but alas & (literally) alack, i
had to get laid first. 18 yrs old & still a virgin, i could not
unlock the lusty verse swelling up taut in my soul; if wishes
were horses then even virgin boys could … write.

i wanted to write; i really & truly did, but could not. there
was basketball to play; there was school & there was the
learn-as-u-go-like-yr-life-depended-on-it oh jay tee of the
seduction frustration/ humiliation/triumph/jealousy/heartbreak/
dejection dance.

there was, too, the modern day circa 1967 artemisia
absinthum, the elixirs of poets cross-dressing in cans of
coors beer & bottles of loganberry, white port & ripple
wine, one dollar joints & ten dollar lids, orange barrels,
peyote buttons & blotter paper acid inspiring choric
cassandra-crying siren songs of addiction & future recovery
rooms:
“cry o mother, father, family cry, lend me ten
thousand eyes & i will fill them with prophetic
tears.”
i wanted to write; i really & truly did, but could not. there
was basketball to play; wine, women, bawdy song & …
marriage. there was adversarial blackness walking about,
seeking whom he might devour. i got bit; gnawed &
chawed, masticated & swallowed & spit back up; renewed.

u came to me then, my teacher, my lyrical mentor, in the
rustling of pages & images in a volume of poems & a book
of plays. when the student is ready, the master surely
appears…

i was ready! lying semi-comatose in an apartment above a
tavern, musically awash in monk’s “epistrophe,” (originally
named ‘fly right” & then “iambic pentameter”) playing over
& over again on the phonograph (his percussive quarter
tones hammering in the dissonance of a souring
modernism), i held in my hands a borrowed volume – yr
book of poems, “a preface to a twenty volume suicide
note.” i struggled with each of yr words as they fought to
focus in my blurry eyes, in my inebriated brain.

the rising sun (a voyeur looking in on the dead soldiers who
had spewed forth liquid pleasure/punishment from their
glassy bellies, the roach-filled ash trays, the empty bags of
potato chips & the sleeping couples in various stages of
undress reduced & fractured into abstract, geometric
structures – a set of discrete planes intersecting, in which
successive outcomes end the same again & again,
mimicking the angry, despairing & repetitive pain in yr
poetic lines) bore witness to the birth of insight. & in yr
flagship poem, i heard u:
lately, i've become accustomed to the way
the ground opens up & envelopes me
each time i go out to walk the dog.
or the broad edged silly music the wind
makes when i run for a bus...
the geography of my life then was littered with barrows &
barrowwights & i was routinely swallowed up by any &
everything new. the only dogs i chose to walk, rufus thomas
notwith-standing, were a ferocious new black persona that
kept slipping off its chain & a tentative sexual identity afraid
of being unleashed.

i found myself in yr proverbial “toilet” – not the battered &
bloodied karolis or the conflicted ray foots, but looking out
through the eyes of the gang of boys who turned their backs
on the audience to pee: who pulled on their whatchama--
callits; who beat up karolis because he was gay;because
they knew of no other way to love him.

yr verse taunted & tortured me like a prison guard; i thought
i had no other choice than to be like u; to write like u. i
devoured everything u wrote. u were the target at which i
arrow-aimed myself; yr verse the model for my own. u were
the horned god, the loa, the òrìşà who circumscribed the
sacred & purified space where all writes, magic & otherwise
were fashioned & crafted.

u were my initiator, leading me to & past each warden’s
station, beat/bohemianism in the south, cultural nationalism
in the east, scientific socialism in the west, post-modernism
& beyond in the dark & dreary north. u showed me in
“dutchman,” like yr hapless clay, how to relieve my
insanity, assert my blackness through the blunt force trauma
of narrative; how to make my poems projectiles & bullets.

offering up yr own life as a passion play, an initiation
drama, u showed me – not unlike the christian’s sacred
cannibalism – how ideated murder could be sanctified, even
sacramental; how redemption might be found in the
passionate slaying of fundamentalism, romanticism, self-hatred
& progressive myopia.

u taught me the futility of ideology & the ascendancy of
change; that human beings can change & change their
minds; that black was merely a color not a cultural absolute
& all manner of siblings can be found in the human family;
& that self transcendence, though a choice, was the rule not
the exception in the cosmic plan.

u taught me to stretch the outer boundaries of all the curves
that describe convention & made me write through my
personal pain until i broke through, cleansed & tempered on
the other side. u bade me lay down with my anima &
perform the great rite, my hieros gamos, where i plunged
my throbbing knifepoem into a chalice of wine & my
lifepoem took shape in that sacred, life-changing moment.

thank u, amiri, for my poetic life. though i walk through the
valleys & the shadows of my own path, u have given me &
others like me the baraka. yr tariqa, the entire ritual system
of yr verse lives on in me & my like; will be passed down
through the sisillah, through the great chain of scintillating
poetic figures that comprise yr spirit & yr grace.

Joseph McNair; 2009

for henry dumas



for henry dumas
the hood of night is coming
up the river, down the river
the sky & night kiss between the wind
from “take this river”
those with greater gifts than
mine have extolled u, poet/
prophet, yr far-reach &
longsight, yr rhythmic
perceptors, yr sweeping range
& achingly sweet poetic
voice that tears into our
cultural viscera, reaches past
our shore-swimming shines
& signifying monkeys, past
our stagolees, sweet georgia
browns & erstwhile urban
legends, past the crass,
psychotropic atheism of the
infinitely inner city to touch
that something holy within
us, that something densely
african that resonates like the
spiritual forces placed within
the drum when it is made
sacred; that calls down the
òrìşàs & represents the
ultimate expression of god as
sound, as rhythm & as the
chief of trees planted by the
river of waters that talk &
makes us know roads we
haven’t seen before; that
speaks directly to our elastic
& elongated past.
i will not try to outdo them,
but merely make humble
ebo to one who has joined
the egungun, to one who
has touched me with his
song & offer nothing less
than my bittersweet poemfruit
& sing orikis to yr
spiritual lineage.

Joseph McNair; 2009

for allen ginsberg


for allen ginsberg
i saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging
themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix…
from 'howl"
from those negro streets at dawn i watched, wondering what to
make of u. yr protracted cry of distress, of pain & rage attached
like a hero’s cape to the rear of yr streaking naked body, a
white anomaly against a static & incredulous blackness, a
turbulence, a white noise, mimicking the sound of the flow of
air or the billowing, wavelike, backward surge of liquid flying
off a fast moving spirit.

from those negro streets at dawn i watched, wondering what to
make of yr poetry. those long-winded, run-on lines pregnant
with peyote, broken up into yogi breaths & oft-repeating
choruses of cassandra crying solos, be-bop style; pitting cubic
images of child-devouring molochs – the military industrial
complex, consumer capitalism, victorian sexual attitudes – vs
the best minds of yr generation – the poets, writers, artists,
anarchists, lunatics & of course, the messianic, sometimes
smack-addled musicians.

from those negro streets at dawn i searched for u, found you in
the sexually free verse of walt whitman, in the luminous
imagist stanzas of william carlos williams & in the elegiac
lines of garcia lorca, saw u cruciform & victimized, imprisoned
in & by yr own imagery, howling on yr knees in existential
subways, clutching yr poems & yr genitalia, held down &
sensationally sodomized, a very different emblem of suffering
& shame.

from those negro streets at dawn i read yr poems, saw thru yr
eyes with the unwavering certainty that i was viewing present
time with all of my attention. i saw in an instant what poems
like yrs could do. i witnessed the terrible calculated destruction
within america of america’s own icons, symbols & monuments
& their triumphant rising from the wreckage & smoldering
ashes into a glorious new vision, healed of all their
malignancies.

& i knew, then, in a moment of clarity, that i wanted to be a
part of this iconoclasm, wanted the thick & slippery blood of
those icons, symbols & monuments dripping from my own
wordswords. looking at my own poetic euphony, i found it
blunt & wanting. so i retreated to my private woodshed
somewhere on one of those negro streets to dream new dreams
& sharpen my verse.

© Joseph McNair; 2009

for robert kaufman


for bob kaufman
"adapting the harmonic complexities &
spontaneous invention of bebop to poetic
euphony & meter, he became the
quintessential jazz poet."
raymond foye
when i read your poems i fell in awe;
if only i could write that way.
yr exquisite lines in the golden sardine
took my breath away.

private, surreal & misunderstood,
beloved bomkauf to friend & fan,
u’d poet at cars or in north beach bars,
the original bebop man.

u screamed yr wild & jazzy verse
in the coffee shops in my brain;
to the sultry strains of a saxophone
u spoke to me of an ancient rain

& solitudes crowded with loneliness,
yr poignant dadaist call --
our american rimbaud & original beat
the greatest of them all.

Joseph McNair; 2009

hush that now


hush that now
for robert hayden
hoot-owl calling in the ghosted air,
five times calling to the hants in the air.
shadow of a face in the scary leaves,
shadow of a voice in the talking leaves…
from “runagate”
connected u were, immediately & intimately,
to a seductively lyrical mistress, some might
guess cerridwen but most probably it was isis
or iyami àjẹ given the fragrant scent of blood
in yr poems; poems well-wrought, carefully
conceived & painstakingly revised, poems
that moved me to tears, made my neck hairs
stand on end, sent shivers down my spine.
beaten to yr knees & almost exiled for a time
by critics, u never lost yr vision, never lost yr
clarion voice that oracle spoke, a ku jlople
from rocky, subterranean caves, an orunmila
advising thru’ ikin & opele ifa, to a larger
human culture. yr poems, like u, never
sacrificed themselves, have lives of their own
grown out of yr life, stripped of their
selfishness & connected to the supernatural,
that powerful runagate spirit force movering
thru’ swamp & savannah that mitigates the
machineries of history.

Joseph McNair; 2009

for countee cullen


for countee cullen
dead men are wisest, for they know
how far the roots of flowers go,
how long a seed must rot to grow…
from “the wise.”
they say u wrote classic verse –
boisterous ballads, silky sonnets,
quaint quatrains, & the like –
much better & more beautifully
than most. yr keats more
keatsian, more rococo in word
choice, more sensual in image
than the englishman himself.
were u white & british, u might
easily have been ushered to the
front ranks of romantic english
parades. but in spite of yr
genuine skill & power, yr
intimate & acute understanding
of yr poetself, u were boyishly
black & shy & as such no one
guessed apart from the
evidentiary lines that screamed
from of yr verse that u knew how
deeply the roots of yr poems
pushed downward into a dank
dark soil, into a moist, nurturing
aesthetic; that u had for sooth
foreseen there the breaking
dormancy of yr creative seed, the
rot-rending of its thick coat
before germinal grace, before
growth, long after yr demise.
i am so glad to be now alive to
pick yr poetic fruit; to bite into &
savor its sweet pulp, swallow its
seeds, knowing that as they pass
through me, their thick seed coats
will weaken enough to sprout
anew.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

In a band of poets


in a band of poets
for langston hughes
but someday, somebody'll
stand up & talk about me
& write about me
black & beautiful
& sing about me…
from “note on commercial theater”
in a band of poets u’d have been the lead;
yr gorgeous tone & phrasing, yr range & deceptive speed
would dazzle longhead jazzers in some harlem cabaret;
even haughty hipsters would stop to check yr play
& everyone who heard would feel yr need.

in a pride of lions u’d have been the first to feed;
the alpha lion, yr dominance would let you seed
the pride with yr issues. u’d certainly have yr way
in a band of poets.

blending mood & rhythm, u did skillfully succeed
to scale the racial mountain. joy turned to ecstasy indeed
when yr poems, racial in theme & treatment, made way
for the blues & bebop to set the cadence; to sashay
like a buck & wing; a fresh new laureate to read
in a band of poets.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

for sterling brown


for sterling a. brown

poet, pedant & bluesman, yr veritable
verse stands tall, defiant -- its head
unbowed, meeting the gaze of its
divided audience with both eyes; its
hamlike hands balled into fists
rebuking, repudiating superficial
depictions of black humanity jailed,
held without bail, double-shackled &
guard-shadowed, in the myopic
awareness of white readership or it fat
butt sits, swiveling around on its
stool, swaying from side to side,
hambone slapping its thighs,
whooping & shouting recapitulatory
oh yeahs behind a funky expository
feel; high balling like a runaway train
intent, hell bent on collision with the
strawmen & inflated heroic personas
tied up in the ropey substance of
fanciful things black readers hope &
yearn for, strewn across its tracks.

pedant, poet & bluesman, where
dunbar exposed a vital african pulse
in dialect, in the regionreek of down
home speech, u found the same in a
blue dialectic, in the exchange of
tonic, dominant & subdominant
phrasings from little river settlements,
black bottom cornrows, lumber
camps, chain gangs & big city
tenements advocating, celebrating the
proposition of dignity, humanism &
worth against a racist antithetical
counter. u drew text & aesthetic
context from the blues, folk tales &
work songs, shaping them to poetic
purpose; prosodically professing in
their rhythms, stresses & intonations a
toughness of spirit -- a way out of no
way – that might expel the bilious
yellow water of oppression from the
blood & uproot those feet still set in
the sticky mudbanks of bigotry.

bluesman, pedant & poet, tho’ college
campus born & a scion of academia, u
opened wide yr nostrils, breathed in
the sweet scent of human sweat, of
musty bodies moving & lusty spirits
touching in juke joints & churches, in
bedrooms, on back porches & picnic
grounds; breathed in the eroticism &
tensions of body, soul & spirit, the
unforgettable stench of lynchings: the
crucified, dead & buried. u held yr
breath & descended into slim greer’s
hell & saw all that was doing, then
rose again & soared, exhaled in
rhythmic puffs of breath, in robust
speechsinging, a poetic voice, obscure
but mighty, that rode the blues like a
cc rider, that placed desire ahead of
reality’s stifling claims & kindled like
raging pentacostal fire a spirit of
revolt & longing for liberation.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

for jorge luis borges


for jorge luis borges
with relief, with humiliation, with terror,
he understood that he also was an illusion,
that someone else was dreaming him…
from the circular ruins
yr poems & stories, borges, tore open
spaces i might more thoroughly explore;
made me dream a sorcerer’s dream, pried
me open to supernatural purpose, pointed
me to treasure in dialectic vision, made
me dare dream up a writer, myself anew/
renewed, in minute entirety. u snatched
back from the dead, back from the
world’s ruin & absence, bereft of color,
syllable & nuance, the remains of my
aborted verse; served them up to me in
the incoherence & vertigo of dreamstuff
& like some fiery multiple demiurge
made me look upon them again & again,
take them back into myself & refashion
them with my spirit hands, making rope
of them as if they were sand, coining
them as if they were wind, penning them
as if they were truly mine. i kneaded
them into poemshapes & breathed into
them, like orişanla, the arch divinity,
nurturing my deformed creations back to
health with the same love & veneration
bestowed on my few fiddlefit &
fettlefine. i watched them all come alive
& grow & knew as u knew that in this
same way i was wrought; in this same
way i was made.

© Joseph McNair; 2009