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Sean Singer

Sean Singer is the author of Discography (Yale University Press, 2002), which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Norma Farber First Book Award. He is also the recipient of a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He lives in New York City.

By This Poet


The World Doesn't Want Me Anymore, and It Doesn't Know It

I am the corner and the cab’s glow-up roof.
A tuba and air synth march down Stanton St.

Do a rhumba for an espresso foam by the green lights.
Notice how this dude in the yellow pants is embarrassing himself.

Trying their best to dougie to "My Favorite Things"
And a sexy woman poured-into jeans twirl-a-whirls.

When we see what we were in New York
And what we leave behind

Only stay human is great
Leave your weakness in a jar.


About this poem:
"This poem is set in New York's Lower East Side. The title is taken from a drawing by Pier Paolo Pasolini, the poet and filmmaker. The subject of the poem is a YouTube video (http://youtu.be/RV86-W01h5w) of Jonathan Batists’s Stay Human Band marching through the Lower East Side, gathering a crowd, as they play their instruments—a melodica, a trombone, a tuba, and a tambourine. The form is five mostly end-stopped couplets."

Sean Singer

Ken Burns

          "There’s no such thing as bop music, but there’s
          such a thing as progress."—Coleman Hawkins

Although jazz’s sepia, acetates, and lacquers
have dipped the black into silver nitrate,
and are faded little faders, they inflate like lungs.

The pink lung, with its tortoiseshell shellac
appears to bulge, and its inseam exhales
purity, and inhales spoonfuls of tempo.

Purity in jazz, sir, is thwarted and unutilized.
Two hundred years of minstrels, snapping
their red suspenders, corrode and oxidize the air.

Mr. Tambo: What kind of a girl was she?
Zip: She was highly polished; yes, indeed. Her fadder was a varnish-maker....
You see, that rubber pork chop became something.

Bechet’s Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble, from its mold
has been heated and mounted face-to-face with a hinge
so that the machine opens up facing you.

It is not lieder or intermezzo, frozen like trout
beneath the flux and ratamacuing of ice. It is not alpine:
Eingeschlafen auf der Lauer / Oben ist der alte Ritter....

Through the cracked photos, breaking into creosote,
superlatives douse the monoliths: "virtuoso," "genius."
But there is a siphoning-off of licking pink jam from the knife:

Negativities: the integrated bands, for example, of alcoholics,
benzedrine-heads, and junkies, or the deranged catastrophe
of Buddy Bolden feeding his hand to a ceiling fan,

or the wicks saturated with amphetamines,
or Buddy Rich telling the trumpet section of "fuckfaces"
that he’d plink them every seven bars like a neutered werewolf.

When Coleman Hawkins stood half-nude like a mango
in Friedlander’s photo (1956) with his curved man-breasts
sweating from It May Not Be True, he appears modern.

He is not a manqué nostalgic, an item, logistical.
He—lung of aerate, propulsive tub, urgently pumping ninths—
is the living demonifuge, ripping through a blanket of vanilla radio.

Racial animus, intractable sources, faded scriptures,
the pinstripes of the Storyville mudheads, midwives,
and the peach tintypes fitted into ladies’ brooches

are not jazz. This strategy does not puff the uvula’s
blowpipe or bring an axe to the Vanguard.
Rather, it shufflebucks, pantomimes, and dabs slop with a hankie.

Meanwhile, as the onyx rattlesnake of the century
slid by 1960, the year the fedora went up the flue,
jazz, too, opened like a fire in a woman’s ceremony—it did not end.

Ayler had yet to drag the black river into rivulets of need.
Unkempt skinny dips, red vinyl seats of the Southern buses,
and the vinegar cloud of the trees’ harpsichords were made,

too, of a jazz. As the bus ate the road’s tape measure,
the ballrooms closed, the Hickory House sewed
52nd Street into a flytrap enmeshed with liquid static.

The green river you ignore is realized by the black river
growing wings beneath the shoulder blades of the hatchling:—
Coleman Hawkins who morphs with alular quills into a hawk.

Dark patagial marks on underwings, present on all ages and races,
conjured shadows beyond the last section of the long film.
You’re afraid of listening to this lady? He, too, with parade float head,

eyes like flashing lindyhoppers, lunging with the lumpy fabric
of the past, pushing his gauge, a deuce of blips, bloodstream
lush as a viper, is more righteous than scumpteen codification.

In closing sir, the reed was always remoistened while you were in the booth,
cutting the montage sequence. But the pink sequins of Bessie Smith,
quenched with yielding limelight, disappear into dust like eighth notes.

My button ejects and the tongue spits out the disk’s rainbow.