Time with Stevie Wonder in It

- 1949-2007

Winter, the empty air, outside
cold shaking its rigid tongue
announcing itself like something stone,
spit out, which is still a story
and a voice to be embraced.
Januaried movements but I hear a tune
carries me home to Lansing.

Always waiting for signs of thaw,
dark nomads getting covered by snow,
our parents would group in the long night—
tune frequencies to the Black stations
blasting out of Memphis, Nashville,
still playing what was played down south—
Ray Charles, Charles Brown, Ruth Brown, Muddy and Wolf.

The tribal families driven north
to neighborhoods stacked like boxes—
to work the auto plants was progress,
to pour steel would buy a car
to drive hope further on down the road.
How could you touch, hear
or be alive; how could anybody

wearing our habits, quiet Protestant
heads aimed up to some future?
This was our rule following—
buy at J.C. Penney and Woolworth’s,
work at Diamond Reo, Oldsmobile, Fisher Body.
On Fridays drink, dance, and try to forget
the perverse comfort of huddling in

what was done to survive (the buffering,
the forgetting). How could we not
“turn the head/pretend not to see?”
This is what we saw: hope screwed
to steel flesh, this was machine city
and the wind through it—neutral
to an extent, private, and above all

perfectly European language
in which we could not touch, hear
or be alive. How could anybody
be singing “Fingertips?” Little Stevie
Wonder on my crystal, 1963.
Blind boy comes to go to school,
the air waves politely segregated
*
If this were just a poem
there would be a timelessness—

the punchclock Midwest would go on
ticking, the intervals between ticks
metaphor for the gap in our lives
and in that language which would not
carry itself beyond indifferent

consequences. The beauty of the word,
though, is the difference between language
and the telling made through use.
Dance Motown on his lip, he lays
these radio tracks across the synapse
of snow. The crystals show
a future happening with you in it.

Muriel Rukeyser as Energy

She knows the resonant dark
and she won’t be bound.

She goes into. 
A darkness has to touch,
and she wants to be exact.

She knows about the burning.
Her history is binary—
one of her hands is ash.

She’s always being born. 
She doesn’t look away;
her sex is coming forward.

Ask her if there’s laughter.
The frog in her head is jumping.
Myths arise where it sets.

She rides a flying horse.
It’s red; she’s stroking its neck.
She praises where it sweats

because the horse is available,
because it is required;
she loves its rascal mouth.

She wants to celebrate.
You know her reaching for words
and arranging them as fruit

knowing there is war, 
and cities rising and falling, and
a river flowing with at least one shore.

She is the speed of darkness—
witness her mystery, not her gown.
As she tries, as she dies,

Aphrodite is getting smaller
but she’s also burning hotter.
She is the dark one
and she won’t be bound.

Fire Gotten Brighter

Remember that memory.
In this dimness when the sounds I make
are foreign, my home is not my own.
when I think of another winter
and the distant whiteness of its walls—
when even the sun seems set
outside the world. In this dimness
the edge of things removed
to thought the numb call touch,
remember that memory—
the young black self
the whole black body painted hot
by the fresh orange scene in the basement
of our old house when I was nine.
When it was my turn
to keep the fire going while my family slept —
my father off divorced somewhere, my older brother resting
after work, and what shadows hovered at the fringe of light
spilt from the furnace’s mouth—
I stuck my shovel in the flame,
had its intensity
its heat travel through a vein in the handle
to a part of my head.
The coals gotten smaller, brighter.
Out of that fire, my frightened shovelling in the night
now a framed power, that young effort
made a little orange scene
kept the whole world excited—
gathered near its center.

In this dimness where I can’t tell
if my longing is my own, it is gotten winter.
Above me I watch a jet
that be’s perfectly still, yet gets so distant,
goes so pointless. I could take a plane,
fly from here to somewhere small
till I’m ashes of myself—
but everything burns repeatedly
or keeps burning. Remember that memory.
I am dark with effort, back at my mother’s house
someone’s thinking of me, and old and smothered flame
gets waked, and it warms the gap
between image and real light.

This Bridge Across

A moment comes to me
and it’s a lot like the dead
who get in the way sometimes
hanging around, with their ranks
growing bigger by the second
and the game of tag they play
claiming whoever happens by.
I try to put them off
but the space between us
is like a country growing closer
which has a language I know
more and more of me is
growing up inside of, and
the clincher is the nothing
for me to do inside here
except to face my dead
as the spirits they are,
find the parts of me in them—
call them back with my words.
Ancestor worship or prayer?
It’s a kind of getting by—
an extension of living
beyond my self my people taught me,
and each moment is a boundary
I will throw this bridge across.