Monday, June 29, 2009

for opal palmer adisa (33)


with all the rainbow’s splendor
for opal palmer adisa

she had a knack for figuring
out the finite in the infinite
from ‘roti’

well known to nigeria’s gwari, berom & otárók
peoples, who dwell in her plateau lands,
u can rise daily to go to farm & if the gods
smile widely, showing their sparkling teeth,
while clearing the land of its native cover,
while removing rocks & stones, opals &
tourmalines can be found resting anonymously
on the surface. the trick of fate is to know what
they are, recognize their iridescent value, or they
will be mindlessly tossed for the mundane yam,
sorghum & millet pray/planted in the holes they
leave. i found u in much the same way. the certain
surfaces of yr poems drew me to u, daughter of
the uncommon yam, caught my eye; appeared
to change colors in the way of soap bubbles,
butterfly wings & mother of pearl. i picked up
one of yr poems & held it like a conch shell to my
ear. the twang of yr lilting poetic voice took hold
of me, took me by the hand & walked me “finger
laced with onlookers looking on” thru the erotic
& often ineffable landscapes of yr verse. i know
the muses who routinely take yr head. they are like
pomba gira, the salaciously scintillating spouse of eşu
& iyami aje, the divine mother of the mothers, who
cause u to write power without guilt, love without
doubt & against the arrogance or negligence of men;
cause u to poetically walk or gẹlẹdẹ dance where u please,
afraid of no one, neither law nor rule, flowing through
the cracks & crevices of convention. yes i know
yr muses & why u must motherly & loverly receive
them. & every day when i go to farm in my own fashion,
at labor’s end, if i don’t find a new opal resting on
the ground before me, i simply retreat to the secret
clutch of poems that i keep; poems alive, stepped on
by the creator, sparkling with all the rainbow’s splendor
& take one, look deeply into it or put it to my ear.


©Joseph McNair

for devorah major (32)



she who shonesang then... & now
for laureate devorah major

i know
i was one who pulsed
shone sang cajoled yelled,
cried and pled yes
yes i want a tongue
yes i want to breathe
yes i want to dance...
from "yes to life"


for some before u, the street poets & black
arts wordsmiths, poems were bullets, hard
projectiles to be cunningly propelled by mouth
& pen, to disrupt/disable by impact, penetration.
u have slung yr share of armament: stones,
bullets, & bombs exploding in unexpected places,
& with good reason. anger & rage, the didactic
& imperative voice, are often useful poet tools.
u have used them sparingly and to good effect.
but rather than bullets, yr poems are in the main
deliberate acts of love. sometimes u slip up, laureate,
& let something too personal, a truth about yr self,
slip out, like an aroused naked breast revealed
when a blouse falls open, or a blushing hint of the

honey oozing down yr thigh, but more often u lead
us down frequent side tracks & trails to clear
& still pools of what-is-not, where we may
refresh ourselves before returning to that narrow
winding path to what-is-so; or thru the backstreets
& alleyways, stepping respectfully over the dozing
icons & transients, past the ghostly buildings of

cherished black memories in an old, ailing city
dissolving into somewhere else; where only the
street signs are the same. yr poems keep us coming
& going, discovering & exploring the overlooked
familiar, the gaping holes left by the sadly missing,
the pervasive but understated faith-girded potency
of yr vision. u give us naught to negotiate with but
yr love, what u call “a homemade, pocket-sized acorn
tool of a solution” fashioned by u alone in some timeless
place at the center of things.


©Joseph McNair;2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009

for rita dove (31)


one narcissus among the ordinary
for laureate rita dove

one narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
stooped to pull harder—
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
it is finished. No one heard her.

from “persephone, falling”

yet again, another on a shortlist of african
american literary firsts, u humbly bowed
yr head to receive the nation’s laurel
wreath; making apollo rainbow smile in
spite of himself. where h.d. unearthly
necromanced the common object, wryly
wrote greek statues to life & vivified an
exanimate imagism; yr fey magic, laureate,
framed the common middle-class experience,
made it coruscate, sparkle & twinkle…
[in for shiny copper pennies more than ezra
pound] made it so universal that folk forgot
u were black; so sometimes idiomatic that
the same folk were shock/shamed into
remembering that u were, writing in
whatever form that just suits u, whatever u
might want to say, in & thru’ voices not
normally heard. write on ms. dove, splendidly
spin yr words, figures & tales, be they mythic
oedipal plots in antebellum big houses,
or verse dramas u recite aloud to make
their music bud & bloom; yr lissome
poetics pleasurepush the lyrical boundaries
of grace. u ooh hoo got that magic
laureate’s touch, that special sumpin,
sumpin.


© Joseph McNair; 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

for harryette mullen (30)


for harryette mullen


go on sister sing your song
lady redbone señora rubia
took all day long
shampooing her nubia…
from “go on sister sing your song”


to visionary heteroglossia,
u said, or bust, & leaped
from yr univocal rock across
the sinking sands of authentic
voice, across non-newtonian
fluidity unable to support
the significant weight of yr
poetic into a refracted domain
of identity & hybrid utterances
where blackness postures in the
screet, in the face of ĭn'ə-vā'shən,
where experiential tries to bully
experimental in another’s speech,
in sum other’s dialectal vehicle
in an abrupt drive-by of inten-
tions & accents but settle their
differences at poem’s end once
a postmodern pun, a thyme.
oh i do like yr stuff, woman,
yr sandra c. say “hip hyperbole,”
yr dicty sans synecdoche, impish
anagrams & fixations on worldly
wardrobe accessories, yr erotic
intersections of orality & illiterate
literacy. like miz lou say, no lickle
twang. u remind us that poetry is
heavy & fun, tickles our trauma;
is meaningless & tragic, high &
low context & seriously silly…
so go on sister, poet/sing. i hear u.
excuse me while i clear my thought;
forgive me if i can’t join in.


©Joseph McNair;2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

for julia de burgos (11)


la grifa negra

for julia de burgos

julia, sun painted & wind primped belonging to
none but yr heart, yr kinky hair & plump kafir lips,
negro trozo de negro. in yr verse, u bludgeon
the false & socially constructed, anticipate
the furious feminist flower emerging from
its sojourn in the depths of tears & sorrow, before
it wins thru’, first in yr dense congo/boricua
ánimo, then to spill on yr poet pages the
first blood shed in yr peripatetic & perpet-
ual revolution. words that can scratch & scar or
even slay the dreaded dreary dragon of despair.
julia, sun painted & wind primped belonging to
us all. the black vine, our sweet, sweet negro bejuco.




© Joseph McNair;2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

for cm clark (29)


imago for countless seasons

for cm clark

i shift my gaze to the hermit crab
land-prone itinerant, borrowed baggage
craven & familial, we set our sights at sea-level,
where nothing wilder to sniff settles
than an abandoned whelk,
a cracked conch
waiting for the nearest wave
from “sea-level”


ma cherie, there’s no need to suck
in yr breath when emily dickinson’s
name is invoked or spoke aloud.
u were never her, not in a thousand
lifetimes; nor were u that split metallic
gold pupal case, that exuvium that
wore her famous face & contained
u for a time.
u have been imago for countless
seasons. yr wing veins taut with
haemolymph. u fly gloriously free &
unfettered by earthly constraints,
a metamorphic, flying far & multiverse
wide, piercing the layers of time &
space stealing words from caravans
& country fairs, from a desert’s bleeding
sunset & a dervish’s whirling white morning,
from a thousand parallel worlds. u forever
fly to love, past the hermit’s cave, high
in a thousand & one night black skies,
under the all-seeing stare of a million stars,
seeking yr stealer of souls, the one who
collects & protects yr wild & fecund heart,
but u wisely drop yr stolen words like
bread crumbs so that u find yr way back
home. u fly forever to love, but yr gifted
grace is to bring love to life in the words
u toss on yr pages like an opele chain, those
magical syllables stolen from those caravans,
from sabian & chaldean merchants &
mendicants, from the wandering melevi,
that makes yr beloved coalesce into
quicksilver sanguinity, materialize & make
slippery transcendent seduction in
momentary pauses in ordinary thought
that illumine life’s meaningfulness,
while wry & dry emily is stuck in her
timeless thoughtbound prison: in an
eternally mundane struggle against male
power or the technical originality of her
poetry or her variety of themes or range
& depth of intellectual & emotional
experience – u have flown past & thru'
all of that. u know already that yr
participation in the presence is quite
beyond words & thought & thus yr poetspeak,
yr vibrantly magical verse, neither lyric,
plainspeech nor constrained by manwrought
convention, is but flowing ligatures of
runes & sigils that create every kind of
love out of chaos.


© Joseph McNair;2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

for ai (28)


traveling at the velocity of darkness
for ai

you’ve done it as you warned me you would
and left the fetus wrapped in wax paper
for me to look at. my son…
from “abortion


simply a writer, u call yrself,
the flow & headwaters of legion,
not the proverbial gerasene demon,
but of several uncommon human
streams, a living ethnic multiplicity;

u know much about connection &
connectivity, tying together loose
ends, lending yr scream & sotto voce
to those who cannot/will not speak.
u know, too, about transcendence.

in quilting together the pieces of yr
own identity, the patchwork nisei,
tchakta, red talker, african & druid,
u learned to rotary cut & poet/piece
the fabrics of narrative & dramatic

monologue, sandwich with batting &
backing the layers of tragic violence –
the rape, murder, incest, suicide,
abortion & abuse -- tying & binding
them with yarns of multicolored threads.


©Joseph McNair;2009

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

for hilda doolittle (7)


for hilda doolittle
o for some sharp swish of a branch--
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
aromatic, astringent--
only border on border of scented pinks.
from “song”
the greatest of the imagists,
yr sculptor’s sensibility let
u fix, even animate an icon
with all its sensate properties –
be it snow-ribbed sand or a
frost-defying green-fleshed
melon or a grecian statue
stepping out of marble into
life. each image claimed yr
loving care. u took essential
wordstones, chipped away
until their roughshapes came,
surrendered to yr smoothing.
yr poet’s touch set free the
phrase whose embedded cells,
figures & motifs made them
much the more than syllables,
shaped them into cadenced
beats, into periods & points
of motion & arrival… & then
u did the unthinkable, u
shed yr imagist clothes, yr
impersonality & moved on,
to the long poem wherein u,
the poet-prophet, walked thru’
bleak & broken landscapes,
amid the ruins of modernist
masculine symbol systems
seeking the goddess, the
sexually ecstatic mystery;
giving a feminine voice to
classic myths, creating bold,
new woman myths & etching
them on a woman’s wax-coated
palimpsest soul.

©Joseph McNair;2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

for nikki giovanni (27)


turning remembrances to elegy
for nikki giovanni
the black aesthetic’s freshest female voice,
a “wealthy” nikki-rosa took her place
among the shooting stars, then voiced her choice

for love; an active witness for her race.
her angry bullet poems were put to bed;
her bardic voice emerged to taunt & tease

in monologues or stanzas often read

with pauses for unspoken thoughts -- to please

by slipping off her lyric gown to bare

her naked verse, vulva soft or nipple hard;

a poet all alone & fool to care.

today she pulls her lonely close. regard

the way she lonely writes her sober truth
,
so wisdom distant from her ruddy youth.


©Joseph McNair; 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

for louise glück (26)


seeking a greater passion
for laureate louise glück

every sorceress is
a pragmatist at heart; nobody sees essence who can't
face limitation. if i wanted only to hold you…
i could hold you prisoner.
from “circe's power”
confessional but not suicidal yr verse was a response
to my cry for help. i needed a fresh way to wordsee;
my ears yearned for the light easy touch of common
tonality – the unadorned word/sound & reverse of
my poetic ambition. disdaining imagist conceits,
yr plainspoken lyric spun off moving points of light,
neither acute nor intense, like loose dull colored beads
in an object cell, reflecting off mundane mirrors in
the here & now. in yr gracelessly grim metric meadows,
a thick chorus of singing reeds sprang up, unable to
keep secret yr studied detachment or the ironic humor
that recorded private moments of rejection & loss –
like circe weaving, her head turning from right to left –
yr own quest for an end to suffering – neither changing
yr clothes nor washing yr hair – the liberation of self
from the savaging of the fates – from something given
to something made – the murder of yr golden-eyed,
protean & patriarchic god with small words on a page
that bled like abrasions on blemished white skin.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For Louise Bogan


the poem as a last resort
for louise bogan

women have no wilderness in them,
they are provident instead…
from “women analysis”

u put me in touch with that tight knot
of irrational emotion portrayed faithfully,
u said, by the feeling experienced in
the moment. get it on paper, u demanded,
knowing that such authentic feeling
might be better used elsewhere & thus
made the crafting of a poem, for me,
an onerous task filled with terror &
doubt. when u wrote, achingly, lyrically
acting out the confrontation of poet
v. emotion, following faithfully a
traditional 17th century English mode,
writing masterpieces of crossed rhythms
wherein meter opposes word groupings
with delicacy & artistry, such were the
naked, exhibitionist proof in beautiful
verse of the desperation in yr world in
the small; an authentic sign of the finality
& exigency of betrayal & distrust;
of the eager meaninglessness of love



©Joseph McNair;2009

for jayne cortez (25)


savage to the passing silence
for jayne cortez
yr range
of poetic resources :
an uber voice, inspired like
breath by oya, emotan &
nne mmiri, textured with
multiple voices within, plying
pitch against pitch, point
against point, melismatic
more than syllabic, more
polyphonic than contrapuntal.
yr verse:
jazzy,projective, written
in breath; rich in ascending/
descending tonality & wry
rhythmic speechsinging –
an a cappella blues loosed
from its melody like a butterfly
escaping its larval coil. a body
of postmodern lyrics.
stylistics & postures:
yr tongue, a scathing weapon
of self defense, yr excesses ,
poetic or otherwise, nothing
more than strategies to slip
inhibiting, inimical conventions
imposed on women writers;
neither nilhilist nor relativist,
but poststructuralist.
charged
with energy & power:
u dazzle, a supersurrealistic
nova shot out of a dense cluster ,
an incandescence, a black body
radiation in a pantheon of black
aesthetic stars, pushing back
the catastrophes, pushing us
forward toward peace, toward
equality & justice

Joseph McNair;2009

for june jordan (24)


the rains fall to purify the river
for june jordan
u loved the poem truly, fully &
completely, nearly exhausted the
inexhaustible, the psychic wellsprings
running deep in yr water-bearing
& permeable rock of self -- being
immigrant black in america, schooling
& marrying white, immersing in the
roiling lustrative currents of the radical
left, the transactional diplomacy of
divorce, the transformational pain of
childbirth & the numbness, arousal &
intrusions of a mother’s suicide –yr poems
came gushing forth in artesian verse,
black english verse, conversational,
informal & free; its meaning figuratively
known thru’ its common use & yr
uncommon skill. u loved the poem,
but showed us all how one can love
the poem & also love the play, novel
or essay, like how a woman who loves
a man may cleave to a woman as well.

©Joseph McNair;2009

for lucille clifton (23)


the gallows sang the yarn
for lucille clifton
the gallows sang the yarn,
a savage song of yore,
a twice big mama’s tale.
her voice, dahomey born,
her voice would not be stilled,
controlled; her voice rebuked
the slaver’s rope, disdained
virginy’s gibbet death,
the first black female slave
to hang, to [l]awful die.

the gallows sang the yarn
& u, lucille, took up
its bittersweet refrain;
a legacy passed down
to u, by word of mouth
passed down to u, a charge
to keep passed down to u
to soak, insinuate
the rhythms, stress & tone
in poems u deftly write

of mothers, daughters, girls
& wives, of lovers true
& loved ones false. u write
black women fetish free,
complex in their identity
& splendid body change;
a brand new woman poem
unlike adoring odes
of men that mask a mean
& surly dominance.

soft anaphora swells
yr crafted lines; so too
the lean epistrophe.
yr rhymes aslant in sleek
iambic trimeter,
evoke a woman’s pain
& joy – triumphant birth
& loss of uterus;
the brazen menstrual flow,
the dry of menopause.

the gallows sang the yarn
but u did coax it thru’
yr poet’s soul, transformed
the same to womansong.
yr fertile mind could see
yr own great grandma thru’
to legendary planes;
yr mortal body thru’
to new identity
& now u live the yarn!

©Joseph McNair;2009

for audre lorde (22)


acknowledged but not judged
for audre lorde

the wild trees have bought me
and will sell you a wind
in the forest of falsehoods
where your search must not end
from “song”
u did in fact make yr meaning known, gamba adisa,
& caused the feminist hive to swarm. winsome warrior
woman poet, robust & screaming, aching to tell yr story,
aching to force out thru yr pores the legends of the myself,
the black being spoken from the inside, the lesbian, godtouched
& marginalized, coming out & ready to roughly
love -- not unlike the fabled socratic gadfly but more akin to
a brightly colored hummingbird with a deeply forked tail
who proboscis-probed a furious femininist stigma & found
nestled like grains of pollen among the flowers, racism,
sexism & homophobia. beware the binary, u told yr sisters,
beware the mandatory greater & lesser, or women will
never be free!

my sweet sister rei domini, severed daughter of seboulisa,
u wrapped me up warm inside yr coiled poetic cloth, made
me like sango yr brother. of all the female oracles of yr time,
i heard u best; heard u loudest in yr celebrated mornings of
wish; in yr evening schools of longing. u had a way of
choosing & using words to denote essentials that have no
names in language. u helped me overcome the poverty of
my own heartspeak; helped me find peace where no peace is.
u let me mount yr hummingbird spirit & ride as u fed on
nectar; as u joyeously pollinated tribal & tribadist judgment.
u bade me feel my fire, sing the morning above the audible
drone of yr rapidly moving wings & i gave to the farewell
winds my full-throated song.

©Joseph McNair

for sonia sanchez (21)


she a ba-a-a-d poet
for sonia sanchez

sistah sonji, matriarchal mother muse
vivacious vanguard voice, ìyá agba &
amengansie, gathered up street sounds,
folk sounds, black sounds, like palm
kernels, cupped them in the slender
fingers of her breath, held them long,
passed them from one hand to the other,
exhaled, let them fall into discernible
patterns, themes, motifs & figures, onto
paper, into artistic exegesis, into poems
pleasing & harmonious to most black
folk, harsh & discordant to those others
who could not/would not understand. her
soul’s silent scream resounded in the
fetalsong of a nascent black arts
movement. she a ba-a-a-d poet!

©Joseph McNair; 2009


for silvia plath (20)


for silvia plath

the tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
even through the gift paper i could hear them breathe
lightly,
through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby..
from "tulips"

when one bleeds freshly from a flesh wound,
platelets in the blood conspire with threads of
fibrin to bind & stick; to clot & keep more
blood & stuff from bleeding out. that clot dries,
gets hard; grows crusty & dark, keeps infection
at bay, gives healing a chance. if one picks &
pulls at the scab, the repair will be undone;
the wound will take longer to heal. when u bled
from yr numerous heart wounds, silvia, the scabs
were slow to form & easily ripped open again,
allowing those wounds to fester, suppurate &
putrefy; requiring not the angst-driven surgical
dissections of yr personal pain in the terse prosody,
sing-song repetitive phrasing, & violent imagery of
yr confessional poetry. what they required was
the sweet soothing salves of fairness, acceptance,
forgiveness & release. thus were yr gifts sullied.
yr poetic voice, the anguished wail of a withering,
suffering spirit that found no surcease. u applied
yr talents to murderous art, to bloodless vivisection
& unwrote yr own tenuous life by falling on the
the gleaming, toothy knife points of yr verse.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

for adrienne rich (19)


for adrienne rich

yr tight, formalist lyric which represents aunt jen
so well as she mute/meekly sews her red righteous rage
into bright topaz tigers caged in safe needlepoint,
morphs into long contrapuntal lines (terse snapshots of
a daughter-in-law) whose wide gaps between words deafen,
whose pearly prose grates, whose didactic & informal
diction beats back stasis with the singlemindedness
of sisyphus ( yr relentless milk man on the stairs)
& paints with dazzling light the nervy, unfulfilled child
bride pinned down, a specimen insect, by torturous
love; morphs again into the precisely personal
lines of self-redeemed, clitorally liberated
unction that augurs hope for androgynous vision.

©Joseph McNair

for maya angelou (18)


for maya

maya, mother, our river,
rock & tree. caged bird no more,
flying free, rising still – no more
a muted, molested voice
but now a majestic song;
a song of redemption sounding
in the hollows of our hearts.
mother icon ruminate
on yr personal journey;
from st. louis bagnio
to inaugural worldstage,
poeting for the people,
poeting for the nation,
a true poem of transcendence.
here are yr flowers, mother,
while u yet live; sunflowers
for warmth & adoration,
roses in bloom for blessings.
& here are our hearts to lay
at yr feet. u have earned them,
ever steadfast in yr love.

Joseph McNair; 2009

for louise simone bennett coverley (17)


kibba yuh mout, miz lou
for louise simone bennett coverley
yuh liltin’ island voice, miz lou.
no lickle language, no lickle twang.
the soul of jamaica contained therein
yuh patois poesy. yuh mout so sweet,
yuh mout so fly, so member seh me deh
tell yuh. kibba yuh mout pure & free,
miz lou & all a jamaica tank yuh.

©Joseph McNair



for sarah webster fabio (16)


that’s all she wrote
for sarah webster fabio

sweet songs, you said, were gonna come again,
my man/and didn't they? i mean they jetted in on
a ray of radiance like the sun/
to shine on those in our midst and/
the still unborn in this hour of our great need.
sarah webster fabio

in yr truncated, telegraphic wordflow, in the subtle blending of
western & nonwestern metaphor; in the irregular rhythms of
polyphonic speech, u probed/pondered the silent hurt of an
oracular people who have used poem & prophesy for thousands
of years, sounded out & puzzled over the anguished outcries of
black poetic feet protesting their forcefit into narrow confines,
into tight, crippling shoes imposed by those relatively new to the
form – & said, enough!

i sat on the floor in the privacy of yr california modern eichler
home, under the flat roof, contained by the vertical siding, &
the spartan facades with geometric lines, among the objets d’
percussion that surrounded us like bodyguards, the lilolo,
shekere, axatses & kayamba, the kpanlogo, sogo, kidi, bata &
dundun, drinking u in; drinking u up, a chela sitting at yr high
yellow feet, hoping to find that black thing u talked about; that
mysterious black aesthetic.

o intrepid magical teacher, who taught huey p. newton & bobby
seale, who touched them both, turned their lifewaters into
summer wine, their anger & rage into the euphony that
inseminated merritt college, womb & epicenter of the california
black arts movement, who midwifed the breached twin births of
black studies & the black panther party.

who taught me & showed me that the poem is not alien to
struggle, that a poem can in fact be a personal instrument of
insurrection, a bludgeon that when stripped of its subtlety,
linguistic complexity or transcendent paradox & epiphany can
beat down bourgeois structuration; that the black poet can &
must use the didactic & imperative voice from time to time to
propagandize, harangue & signify until our people are free; to
stand rhetorically for something, something boldly black.

yr verse, musical & authentic, stands as thought/expression
freed from the technologies of literacy; yr images clear, stand
as totems & fetishes of restructured human consciousness. yr
line breaks are political acts; yr enjambments mark the strong
emotional pulse/presence behind yr words, the contracting
current pushing yr poems to their relevatory ends.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

for mari evans (15)


for mari evans
who can be born black and not
sing the wonder of it?
from ”who can be born black?”

i heard yr exulting voice, yr forgiving clarities
calling to me not from sinister sirenic beaches
littered with random whitened skulls but from a
safe, nurturing poetic place, a precious heart
space that rejects guilt-ridden self-treachery. in
that poetic place u preached/plotted self-naming.
yr poems, vital, vibrant agents of living deliberately,
suant self-expressions of primary personal choice.
how long heretofore had black been something
acutely noxious? how long were the black arts
declaimed evil invocations. yet u sang of the
joy, challenge & wonder of being black, the heady
sound above sound power of being black & coming
togetherness. u forged adequacy between
self & color; between self & self-expression,
that both must be the result of deliberate choice &
creative work. how easy it soon became to exclaim
black is beautiful, a beauty not derived from the
absence of all color but from the quintessential
quantum materia prima from whence all created
things come. yr poems pointed the way to wholeness
& gave to us much more of ourselves to love. yr black
arts were additive not subtractive magic. how
easy came the awakened sensitive sentience;
the resurrected judgments of sentiment & taste.
more difficult the next evolutionary leap, from
color to culture, where color is jettisoned when it
runs out of propellant & falls away, or the next,
when a less dense consciousness ignites, unburdens
itself of the weight of culture, reaches required
velocity, attains spiritual union, & shares a mystical
body wherein all who dwell there contribute to the
good of all & share in the welfare of all.


for gwendolyn brooks (14)


amrita
for gwendolyn brooks

amrita,
most treasured & revered
nectar of the goddess;
ejaculate of women
who joyfully release
the fullness of their being.

amrita
the poetry of certain women
whose thickly mucous
wordflow, whose pale, pungent &
salty poetic diction arouses &
opens wide the nose,

makes cilia-like skin hairs
rise & ripple.

amrita,
the intoxicant, the same which
made me long to write like
gwendolyn brooks, with that
same grace & ease; to turn
a phrase as deftly as she

& craft
an image so exquisitely tuned
to the boundaries of a moment,
set apart in graphic sigils, penned
with stark simplicity -- a sonnet or
a folksy narrative

to condense the sanguine
into vital vignettes.

amrita
the surprising squirt, a light
sprinkle or prodigious gush of
words brought forth by orgasmic
expulsion, that hit me in
the face & heart.

amrita,
distilled from the measured
rhythms of the english sonnet
sweetened by the ballad’s musical
strains swirled around & coated
my thrusting prosody

bringing my poetic tumescence
to ejaculatory inevitability
& past the point of no return!


© Joseph McNair; 2009

for margaret walker (13)



reconciling the pride & the pain
for margaret walker

i want to frame their dreams into words;
their souls into notes. i want to catch their
sunshine laughter in a bowl; fling dark hands
to a darker sky
from “i want to write”


i felt my own pride rekindled as I scried
the bloody entralls of yr verse; when
i glimpsed the auguries made plain
in the patterns yr words made, i cried.
conscious of the struggle, then, to write
or die, my simple sanguine choice,
i chose to wield my wordswords high,
face death knell sounds; seize the night.
i rode the winds to nigeria to explore,
write thru’ her dense womblike jungles
& beaches made of sugary sands;
to seek & find a mythic self & more.
my feet tapped out sonnets as I walked
ibadan’s streets; evoked the voice of
jp clark. i saw her splash of rust & gold.
i thought of u & how u glibly talked
of palm jungles & stretches of a neverending
sea. i saw what u saw, tho’ i
doubt the one-room shacks & pudency
of yr old mobile poverty could ever
match the sordid living rot, the desolation
of africa’s poor, but I saw what u meant;
even felt the pride & pain, the towering
heights & the terribly tragic abrogation
of an ancient people brought so low –
i wrote sultans, emirs, obas & obongs,
obis, ochi’domas & tor tivs into my
poems; made them gratuitously glow
with historic dignity & authenticity.
but when i stood on yr fabled mountain
tops & looked down on the scenes below
i could not unsee for the life of me
the corruption, ethnic hatred & the same
soul killing poverty soiling that darkly
beautiful land, finishing what lugard
began, with no white man to blame.
& i learned from u, miss walker, how
to pawn the impact of my surroundings
for lyrical coin, for biblical chant &
experimental sonnets or every now
& then for free wrought lines that extol
or bemoan the plight of my people,
frame their pride & pain into my own
impassioned prosody & soothe my soul.

©Joseph McNair

for margaret esse danner (12)


dedicated to the unraveling
for margaret esse danner

so very black a power
yr source of inspiration
so prettily dark a flower
yr cause for celebration
orisas bent at angles
as u plumbed our dark aesthete
unraveled stubborn tangles
stringent/bitter, syrupy sweet
combined to be pleasing.
yr sharp, incisive wit
proved so delicately teasing.
like an iya’s sugar tit.
yr dark chocolate wordplay
& impish scarlet bitchery
restored the tarnished sun day
with softly indigo witchery
til the last shades of sunset
relieved horror, brittle grief
& our dark obligations met
with poems beyond belief.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

for helene johnson (10)



for helene johnson


that’s what they done to this
shine, ain’t it? bottled him.
from “bottled.”

yr poems were brown grains of sand in a
bottle washed up on harlem’s concrete
beaches. was the bottle ceremoniously
enjoyed? a special bottle of wine shared
at sunset or a flask of fiery African
spirits passed around among friends
before filled with sand and thrown into
the sea? u never said. yr concern was for
the sand, brown sand taken from the
sahara.

yr poems were disdainful & magnificent
negroes dressed to kill in yellow gloves
& swallowtail coats dancing on harlem’s
seventh avenue pavements. Did their
shoulders tower high, were their heads
thrown back & wide mouths full of
orikis & juba songs? again, u didn’t say,
but demurred to their flying supercilious
feet too splendid for harlem’s streets.

yr poems were full of jazz & race & u
swung from severing sonnet to
syncopated vernacular line to
scatological petitions to the sacred,
rushing in where no woman & only
langston dared to tread, throwing
discretion into the harmattan’s teeth or
jazz-age harlem’s substitute winds to
write verse womanly wise, womanly wet
& sobbing with song.

©Joseph McNair; 2009

for edna st. vincent millay (9)



for edna st. vincent millay
"[…a friend ]told me of seeing her years ago in
Greenwich Village running around the corner of
Macdougal Street, flushed & laughing 'like a
nymph,' with her hair swinging…"
Edmund Wilson
yrs was a true voice of yr generation,
vincent, spoken with feeling rising up
from yr toes, transgressive & traditional,

yet patently postmodern, not unlike the

conflicted contradictions in yr own life.

an anchor for bohemian identity &

unrepentant feminist compass pointing to

emancipated love, u slept with women &

men, a sappho for those wide-eyed girls

at vassar who came joyeously to yr bed.

but then u parked & abandoned yr
lesbianism at graduation to pursue multiple

male sex partners, often several in a day for
the rest of yr life. never truly a lesbian,

but always a thespian, u showed us how

to fling pretty follies aside, how to repel

or embrace murderous emotion, how to

repel or embrace interloping death in
traditional tetrameter, in simple minimalist

couplets containing the profound & the

mystical, in concussive sonnets bursting

with images descriptive of rapture, of

powerful forces, cosmic & soular,

within & without & in collision.

© Joseph McNair; 2009