- 1949-
I have always loved the word guitar.

I have no memories of my father on the patio
At dusk, strumming a Spanish tune,
Or my mother draped in that fawn wicker chair
Polishing her flute;
I have no memories of your song, distant Sister
Heart, of those steel strings sliding
All night through the speaker of the car radio
Between Tucumcari and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 
Though I’ve never believed those stories
Of gypsy cascades, stolen horses, castanets,
And stars, of Airstream trailers and good fortune,
Though I never met Charlie Christian, though
I’ve danced the floors of cold longshoremen’s halls,
Though I’ve waited with the overcoats at the rear
Of concerts for lute, mandolin, and two guitars—
More than the music I love scaling its woven
Stairways, more than the swirling chocolate of wood

I have always loved the word guitar.

Francesco and Clare

It was there, in that little town
On top of the mountain, they walked,
Francesco and Chiara,
That's who they were, that's what
They told themselves—a joke, their joke
About two saints, failed lovers held apart
From the world of flesh, Francis and Clare,
Out walking the old city, two saints,
Sainted ones, holy, held close to the life...
Poverty, the pure life, the one
Life for Franziskus and Klara,
Stalwarts given
To the joys of God in heaven
And on earth, Mother, praising Brother Sun
And sister Moon; twin saints, unified
In their beauty as one, Francisco and Clara,
A beauty said of God's will and word, bestowed
And polished by poverty, François
With Claire, the chosen poverty, the true
Poverty that would not be their lives...
And they took their favorite names, Clare and Francesco,
Walking the streets of stone the true saints
Walked, watching as the larks swirled
Above the serene towers, the larks
Francesco once described as the color
Of goodness, that is, of the earth, of the dead...
Larks who'd not seek for themselves any extravagant
Plumage, humble and simple, God's birds
Twirling and twisting up the pillowing air...
And Francesco said to Clare, Oh little plant I love,

My eyes are almost blind with Brother Sun...tell me,

Who hides inside God's time...?
And Clare, rock of all Poor Clares, stood
In the warm piazza overlooking the valley, weary,
Her shoulder bag sagging from the weight
Of her maps and books, and said across the rain-slick
Asphalt of the parking lot, to the poor bird climbing
The wheel of sky it always had loved best,
Dear lark, dear saint, all my kisses on your nest!


  Vivian St. John (1881-1974)

There is a train inside this iris:

You think I'm crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It's a child's finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child's nail,

A darkened porthole lit by the white, angular face

Of an old woman, or perhaps the boy beside her in the stuffy,
Hot compartment. Her hair is silver, & sweeps

Back off her forehead, onto her cold and bruised shoulders.

The prairies fail along Chicago. Past the five
Lakes. Into the black woods of her New York; & as I bend

Close above the iris, I see the train

Drive deep into the damp heart of its stem, & the gravel
Of the garden path

Cracks under my feet as I walk this long corridor

Of elms, arched
Like the ceiling of a French railway pier where a boy

With pale curls holding

A fresh iris is waving goodbye to a grandmother, gazing
A long time

Into the flower, as if he were looking some great

Distance, or down an empty garden path & he believes a man 
Is walking toward him, working

Dull shears in one hand; & now believe me: The train

Is gone. The old woman is dead, & the boy. The iris curls,
On its stalk, in the shade

Of those elms: Where something like the icy & bitter fragrance

In the wake of a woman who's just swept past you on her way

& you remain.

Los Angeles, 1954

              It was in the old days,
When she used to hang out at a place
                        Called Club Zombie,
A black cabaret that the police liked
         To raid now and then. As she
              Stepped through the door, the light
         Would hit her platinum hair,
And believe me, heads would turn. Maestro
         Loved it; he'd have her by
The arm as he led us through the packed crowd
                        To a private corner
Where her secluded oak table always waited.
         She'd say, Jordan... 
                        And I'd order her usual,
A champagne cocktail with a tall shot of bourbon
              On the side. She'd let her eyes
         Trail the length of the sleek neck
                       Of the old stand-up bass, as
The bass player knocked out the bottom line,
              His forehead glowing, glossy
                             With sweat in the blue lights;
Her own face, smooth and shining, as
              The liquor slowly blanketed the pills
                             She'd slipped beneath her tongue.
Maestro'd kick the shit out of anybody
              Who tried to sneak up for an autograph;
He'd say, Jordan, just let me know if
                         Somebody gets too close....
         Then he'd turn to her and whisper, Here's
 Where you get to be Miss Nobody...
                             And she'd smile as she let him
         Kiss her hand. For a while, there was a singer
              At the club, a guy named Louis--
But Maestro'd change his name to "Michael Champion";
                             Well, when this guy leaned forward,
Cradling the microphone in his huge hands,
              All the legs went weak 
                                  Underneath the ladies.
He'd look over at her, letting his eyelids
              Droop real low, singing, Oh Baby I...
                    Oh Baby I Love...    I Love You...
And she'd be gone, those little mermaid tears
              Running down her cheeks. Maestro
         Was always cool. He'd let them use his room upstairs,
Sometimes, because they couldn't go out--
         Black and white couldn't mix like that then.
                                  I mean, think about it--
This kid star and a cool beauty who made King Cole
              Sound raw? No, they had to keep it
                                  To the club; though sometimes,
Near the end, he'd come out to her place
         At the beach, always taking the iced whisky
I brought to him with a sly, sweet smile.
                   Once, sweeping his arm out in a slow
         Half-circle, the way at the club he'd
              Show the audience how far his endless love
                                  Had grown, he marked
The circumference of the glare whitening the patio
              Where her friends all sat, sunglasses
         Masking their eyes...
                   And he said to me, Jordan, why do
 White people love the sun so?--
                                God's spotlight, my man?
         Leaning back, he looked over to where she
                        Stood at one end of the patio, watching
The breakers flatten along the beach below,
                             Her body reflected and mirrored
Perfectly in the bedroom's sliding black glass
                                  Door. He stared at her
                   Reflection for a while, then looked up at me
And said, Jordan, I think that I must be
          Like a pool of water in a cave that sometimes
                                   She steps into...
Later, as I drove him back into the city,
                   He hummed a Bessie Smith tune he'd sing
         For her, but he didn't say a word until
We stopped at last back at the club. He stepped
                        slowly out of the back
                   Of the Cadillac, and reaching to shake my hand
Through the open driver's window, said,
                             My man, Jordan... Goodbye.