The Roots Do a Live Cover of Mayfield's “Move On Up”

A visual poem with elements of regular text, text in handwritten font, and black spheres of varying sizes with white text inside. The woven structure allows for three different readings of the poem that are in conversation with each other. The complete text is as follows.     The Roots Do a Live Cover of Mayfield’s “Move On Up”     Bilal cries Dear God and Black Thought  strokes entendres in his beard. A shadow  splits the light confetti with a brass throat  wrapped around his waist. What  is the tipping point after which nothing  lost once, twice can be                           lost again? Once, I walked  up the driveway to find my father  smashing The Roots Come Alive and The Rose  That Grew from Concrete with a broom stick.     Dear indigo grammar. Dear never-  to-come-home-again hanging  on for the by-and-by. In this  Charybdis of gold-studded angers, sweet  as peaches soaking the weft of their  own plucked selves. I’m  so far from the last bed you  slept in. Nobody  gets a better view. Tonight     I’m Lucifer falling     toward a hip human perfection.  Call it I love you too, Pa.  This song, even a damaged good  knows all the words.

Portrait of My Father as a Pianist

Behind disinfected curtains,
           beyond touch of sunrise
devouring the terrible gold

           of leaves, a man could be
his own eternal night. City
           flattened to rubble, his

surviving height a black flight
           of notes: the chip-toothed
blade and oldest anesthetic.

           Escaped convict, he climbs
wild-eyed, one hand out—
           running its twin on the rails

of a broken Steinway. Who
           has not been found guilty
of a carrion cry—the dream

           of a feathered departure
one has not earned, then fall
           back down teeming fault lines

of the flesh? Memory recedes
           into nocturne, a kingdom born
of spruce and fading light—

           he reaches in the end what
he had to begin with: fingertips
           on corrupted tissue, cathedral

of octaves in his thinning
           breath, tears like small stubborn
gods refusing to fall. 

Redacted from a Know-Your-Rights Training Agenda—

That a potholed street in the middling borough of Collingswood, New Jersey, bears the name Atlantic, after an all-consuming body of water.

That all-consuming is Atlas’ curse to bear the heavens on his shoulders.

That after the fall of the gods, half of the heavens is darkness.

That inside the car speeding down the street, I believe I am safe from being halved.

That “I” am not a white box, but a body of water.

That white is a pattern of boys who expect to live long enough to become men.

That some of these boys are whistling by on their bikes, and behind them, clear as a dream, welcome candles in the windows framed by blooms of vervain.

That “welcome” means I thought I was not afraid of the dark.

Since the jade scrubs of the cancer ward.

Since the florescent grid of the factory and the vista of small bones in my father’s collar while I was interpreting for the twenty-something-year-old white citizen,

                              “Tell your dad he can quit or I can fire him.”

Grief had already burst its cocoon; it ate him like an army of moths from the inside.

That brown men and women kept stitching jackets under the heavens of the machines.

Welcome.

That a moth is trapped in the car with me – it will die, but I do not want to practice florescence alone.

Like a first language bleeding hearts call, speaking truth to power.

I don’t know how they don’t know that power doesn’t care.

That watching fires go out will become a pattern.

That fire is everywhere, and therefore, cheap.

That the hole in my foundation is all-consuming and at its bottom a frangipani tree opens its yellow hands.

That POLICE ICE is printed in yellow or white on the jacket of the night.

That the night walks freely among the ranks of the sun.

That a body of water parted once like a red skirt then sealed over the armored horses of Egypt.

That Whitney Houston is a bone blasting

out the car windows.

That tonight, the night after, the night after that, for as long as the distance between god and a pothole, a moth’s flight will spell,

                                        “They are coming for you.”

Related Poems

Roof Nightclub

First, above all, I live forever. And
thereafter redecorate paradise
in the majesty of the Roof Nightclub,
DJ Lucifer, at predawn hours
terrifies the floorboards to give way to
Apollyon’s abyss, reflecting scarred light
on the wall. The mirror alive with tremors.

Herons bring news of consolation.
I rebuke them for my brilliance
and enrich uranium in my cove
across Navy Island. The hospital
vanishes in the fog, so I arrange rain
to restore magenta ginger lilies
where my mother walked to born me.
Malignant fireflies at Christmas;
sorrel then sorrow, such is Kingston, there
funky carols seethe asphalt with famine.

Forever ends. Never a moment holds
‘still-here,’ when sand murmurs through my fingers.
I number and chant down stars, ellipsoidal
as fire ants with, “I think I will be
killed once I die!” and again return
the Super Ape, to conquer the Roof Club,
rip off Apollyon’s hell fence; skin him; dance
thundering subatomic dub music,
until my rage yields settled coral.
A million embers of eyes split from coals
to see me loom out the shadows’ sunray
by the turntable wearing a splash crown.

Untitled

Art's desire to get it all said
to all who thought him dead
in the joint & beside the point

Art's struggle to sing it all
through jazz warfare & tell
everything he knew in brass
speed rap stir crazy utopia
of muscle chops push it in your face
rough unrelenting grace

fierce Art pitbull clamps down
pulls edges out in time to break through
scream knotty beauty
toe to toe w/ any joe
who thinks they know better

Art tattoos blue needles into moonlight skin
junk light makes mirrors perfect

Art's smoke aches out of wounds

L.A. Art burritos & bebop
black guacamole serge zoots
Central Avenue cat copping

Pepper at Club Alabam
in Lee Young's band
all the chicks & the hatcheck chick
have big eyes for Art's horn

Transit

If music be the food of love, play on.

This is the house that music built:
each note a fingertip’s purchase,
rung upon rung laddering

across the unspeakable world. 
As for those other shrill facades,
rigged-for-a-day porticos

composed to soothe regiments
of eyes, guilt-reddened,
lining the parade route

(horn flash, woodwind wail) . . .
well, let them cheer. 
I won’t speak judgment on

the black water passing for coffee,
white water for soup.
We supped instead each night

on Chopin—hummed our grief-
soaked lullabies to the rapture
rippling through. Let it be said

while in the midst of horror
we fed on beauty—and that,
my love, is what sustained us.

[Alice Herz-Sommer, survivor of the Theresienstadt ghetto / concentration camp]