Letter Written In Black Water and Pearl

- 1972-2012

To Yusef Komunyakaa

When I rise from the bank
the water's slow as shadow
in my steps, thick as blood.
The whole river's secretive,
still, dark as roux
cooled in the skillet, as rank,
as sweet, ancient as catfish,
ancienter. The moon's
sifted light clouds rumor
to lilies or daffodils,
an egret on the farther shore,
a hunger, a stare, a patience
I could recite. We have
waited all night, nights,
like a bridge for something
to rise, like water
for something to fall.

*

I know what Bogalusa means,
that tea of deadheads
and late-fallen leaves
no one left can read,
snuff-black pools that bathe
grandmothers' gums.
So many words one has
to know not to say.
So many names. The young,
unconvicted hand. The bricklayer.
The deputy. Names
of flowers and warblers and stars.
Last breaths of the disappeared.
I keep my hands folded,
my map blank
as next week's papers,
my ears clams
with mouths full of sand.

*

So many songs I can't sing
with my one poor tongue.
I need a jukebox for a throat
so the midnight's moan
translates what a wolf
once said to a girl in the trees,
so their branches confess
what the fog told them not
to see. I need the lisp
of a horn valved to spit
which is the sound of a shadow
forgetting what hanged it
in the dark. How do I explain
the way it slips the steam
like a shirt, how it slides
beneath the glass and does not
rise again, how the halflight
fingers the rails of the bridge,
how many things
no one's done?

*

Birds the color of history
talk in our sleep. Our salts
can't forget what water
told them, what stars
once telegraphed to the river
the trees have written
in themselves, what they say
to the wind, to the sawmill's
blades, to flame,
to bromine and mercury,
what they burn in the air.
Dreams walk us back
to the shore, pull the shirttail
from the milkweed, the cattail
from the reed, fold
the kerchiefs into herons,
questions for the shoals.

*

Night slips again
into its last, locked groove.
Mockingbirds stutter
the rasp of broken reeds.
I lean from the eaves
of moss and cypress,
the vestibules of the tung.
Cormorant, coelacanth, snake,
the world below is molten.
Dark iridescence,
the muscle gives back the bone.
The spine's fleer, the orbits'
gape, the ghost of a face
waking beneath my own.
Here, I bent so close
breath didn't know
which mouth to fill.

More by Jake Adam York

Letter Already Broadcast into Space

                        —To Sun Ra, from Earth

You are not here,

you are not here
in Birmingham,
        where they keep your name,

not in Elmwood's famous plots
                or the monuments
of bronze or steel or the strew

        of change in the fountain
where the firehoses sprayed.

                In the furnaces, in the interchange sprawl
        that covers Tuxedo Junction,

in the shopping malls, I think,
                they've forgotten you,

the broadcast towers, the barbecues,

        the statue of the Roman god,
spiculum blotting out
                part of the stars.

To get it dark enough,
        I have to fold back
into the hills, into the trees

                where my parents
planted me, where the TV
        barely reaches and I drift

with my hand on the dial
                of my father's radio,

spinning, too, the tall antenna
        he raised above the pines.

I have to stand at the base

                of the galvanized
pole I can use as an azimuth
        and plot you in.

The hunter's belt is slung again,
                and you are there

in the pulse, in the light of
        Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka,

all your different names,

                you are there
in all the rearrangements
        of the stars.

                        Come down now,
come down again,

                like the late fall light
into the mounds along the creek,

        light that soaks like a flood
to show the Cherokee sitting upright
                underground, light

like the fire they imply.

        Come down now
into the crease the freight train
                hits like a piano's hammer

and make the granite hum
        beneath.

                        Come down now

as my hand slips from the dial,
                tired again of looking
for the sound of another way

        to say everything.

Come down now with your diction
                and your dictionary.

Come down, Uncle, come down
        and help me rise.

I have forgot my wings.

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Poem [Your breath was shed]

Your breath was shed
Invisible to make
About the soiled undead
Night for my sake,

A raining trail
Intangible to them
With biter's tooth and tail
And cobweb drum,

A dark as deep
My love as a round wave
To hide the wolves of sleep
And mask the grave.