On Seventh Avenue at Stop-Time

For Jean Toomer

rhythm’s a badge, beautiful & 
mystifying, an inside joke. collapsing 
bloodtypes with watery eyes,  
couples blanch under this slow grind 
this two-step, this islanded house  

folks call marriage. moving slowly from  
one room to the next; soul 
a devastated dwelling caught 
in some powerful 9th Ward of feeling. 
like shadows that trick us, 

caught in abjection’s swift traffic:  
old cooking smells, disconcerting bells  
fighting the slow wheels of the mind, 
its hiss a record spinning, tonearm 
a hunger confused with the ambling  

gallop of the pinto horse. astride 
the sound barrier, bones breaking 
like time in a song, its signature 
changing, a numbness, a de-  
compensation, startling 

as the angular blue house, dotted 
with the slow, dark cattle call of cause 
and effect. realms away a 
distant battalion, kit heaped & bound, 
propounds a modest physics while 

in the immediate vicinity:  
black so bright it’s yet to be divorced 
from the blockbusters of twitch. 
lives spent folding space; trains heading  
to all galactic points South. blinded 

by dust, what is news but the 
mendacity of slavers singing the torch  
song of the amnesiac, a sluggishness  
of the tongue you’d  
          have to know to hear 


Copyright © 2024 by Herman Beavers. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 12, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

About this Poem

“I’m a great fan of Jean Toomer’s Cane, hence the dedication (and the title of the poem serving as its opening phrase). The Washington, D.C., section of the book reflects Toomer’s deepening investments in 1920s experimental Modernism as a vehicle for exploring the precariousness and complexity of human relations across early twentieth-century urban landscapes. The poem’s phrasing provides a way to move nimbly through a series of ghost notes: Hurricane Katrina, westward expansion, World War I, physicists’ early preoccupation with the speed of light, and the growing popularity of recorded jazz, with the ultimate ghost note being the afterlife of slavery, which hangs over everything we see, hear, and know.”
—Herman Beavers