What the Wind, Rain and Thunder said to Tom
Hear how sky opens its maw to swallow
Earth? To claim each blade and being and rock
with its spit? Become your own full sky. Own
every damn sound that struts through your ears.
Shove notes in your head till they bust out where
your eyes supposed to shine. Cast your lea
brightness across the world and folk will stare
when your hands touch piano. Bend our breath
through each fingertip uncurled and spread
upon the upright’s eighty-eight pegs.
Jangle up its teeth until it can tell
our story the way you would tell your own:
the way you take darkness and make it moan.
Copyright 2010 Tyehimba Jess
Tom Wiggins (1849-1908) was born into slavery. Possessing remarkable skill on the piano, he performed original compositions and popular songs on vaudeville stages all over the United States, played at the White House and did a tour of Europe. An autistic savant, before the term was coined, he is described as having the ability to memorize any piece of music almost instantly. He earned a small fortune for his pre-civil war “family” under the ruse of managing his career.
To read an interview with Tyehimba Jess and the entire poem Sonnet Crown For Blind Tom click on the link below. There is also an excellent article on Wikipedia that provides more information on the fascinating life of Tom Wiggins.
boooooooo. spooky ripplings of icy waves. this
umpteenth time she returns–this invisible woman
long on haunting short on ectoplasm
“you’re a good man, sistuh,” a lover sighed solongago.
“keep your oil slick and your motor running.”
wretched stained mirrors within mirrors of
fractured webbings like nests of manic spiders
reflect her ruined mien (rue wiggles remorse
squiggles woe jiggles bestride her). oozy Manes spill
out yonder spooling in night’s lofty hour exudes
her gloom and spew in rankling odor of heady dour
as she strives to retrieve flesh to cloak her bones
again to thrive to keep her poisoned id alive
No, I don’t feel death coming.
I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.
I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
This is a longer recording. Click on the link below to hear the musicality and intensity of June Jordan’s voice verse. Jordan was a prolific writer, essayist, poet, civil rights activist and a talented teacher.
Supposing we could just go on as two
voracious in the days apart as well as when
we side by side (the many ways we do
that) well! I would consider then
perfection possible, or else worthwhile
to think about. Which is to say
I guess the costs of long term tend to pile
up, block and complicate, erase away
the accidental, temporary, near
thing/pulsebeat promises one makes
because the chance, the easy new, is there
in front of you. But still, perfection takes
some sacrifice of falling stars for rare.
And there are stars, but none of you, to spare.
If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, then he can not by loyal to anything.
By Claude McKay (1889 – 1948)
Sometimes I tremble like a storm-swept flower,
And seek to hide my tortured soul from thee.
Bowing my head in deep humility
Before the silent thunder of thy power.
Sometimes I flee before thy blazing light,
As from the specter of pursuing death;
Intimidated lest thy mighty breath,
Windways, will sweep me into utter night.
For oh, I fear they will be swallowed up–
The loves which are to me of vital worth,
My passion and my pleasure in the earth–
And lost forever in thy magic cup!
I fear, I fear my truly human heart
Will perish on the altar-stone of art!
Check out this excerpt of an audio recording of a James Baldwin speech. In it he says; “the artist’s struggle for integrity is a metaphor for the struggle of all human beings to become human beings.”
What kind of artist are you? What kind of artist do you want want to be? Interesting questions to contemplate.
A House in Taos
by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)
Thunder of the Rain God: . .And we three . .Smitten by beauty.
Thunder of the Rain God: . .And we three . .Weary, weary.
Thunder of the Rain God: . .And you, she, and I . .Waiting for nothingness.
Do you understand the stillness . .Of this house . ..In Taos
Under the thunder of the Rain God?
That there should be a barren garden
About this house in Taos
Is not so strange,
But that there should be three barren hearts
In this one house in Taos—
Who carries ugly things to show the sun?
Did you ask for the beaten brass of the moon?
We can buy lovely things with money,
Yet you seek,
As though you could keep,
This unbought loveliness of moon.
Touch our bodies, wind.
Our bodies are separate, individual things.
Touch our bodies, wind,
But blow quickly
Through the red, white, yellow skins
Of our bodies
To the terrible snarl,
But all one snarl of souls.
Blow quickly, wind,
Before we run back
Into the windlessness—
With our bodies—
Into the windlessness
Of our house in Taos.
“Modern thought and literature begins with the invention of the sonnet.”
Paul Oppenheimer in The Birth of the Modern Mind
By Jean Toomer (1894 – 1967)
Whoever it was who brought the first wood and coal
To start the Fire, did his part well;
Not all wood takes to fire from a match,
Nor coal from wood before it’s burned to charcoal.
The wood and coal in question caught a flame
And flared up beautifully, touching the air
That takes a flame from anything.
Somehow the fire was furnaced,
And then the time was ripe for some to say,
“Right banking of the furnace saves the coal.”
I’ve seen them set to work, each in his way,
Though all with shovels and with ashes,
Never resting till the fire seemed most dead;
Whereupon they’d crawl in hooded night-caps
Contentedly to bed. Sometimes the fire left alone
Would die, but like as not spiced tongues
Remaining by the hardest on till day would flicker up,
Never strong, to anyone who cared to rake for them.
But roaring fires never have been made that way.
I’d like to tell those folks that one grand flare
Transferred to memory tissues of the air
Is worth a like, or, for dull minds that turn in gold,
All money ever saved by banking coal.
Curiosity is the only lens anyone has into the life of another human being. What I enjoy about poetry is that it wipes away the differences that may appear to divide us and aligns all of humanity around our common dreams, the innermost whispers that make us all the same.
The sonnet may feel to some like a straight jacket of literary convention. If you look deeper, its history is one of rebellion. The sonnet was the first lyric form intended for self reflection. Throughout its history, the sonnet has been used as a radical vehicle to share the poet’s self-consciousness and self- conflict through the brazen use of first person.
The sonnet is far from settled as a literary form and Jean Toomer’s poem Banking Coal is a great example of that flexibility. Toomer utilizes elements of the sonnet structure to connect to a deeper literary history. The sonnet is a vehicle for self-discovery and self-definition that cannot be defined by a single racial or gender identity.
Toomer was fiercely independent and refused to be categorized during his lifetime as strictly an African American writer, although his publisher played up his connection to the Harlem Renaissance movement in part to increase sales. Toomer moved continually between black and white societies and did not allow himself to be bound by race in his personal or professional life. Toomer claimed to be an American who represented a new culture, a mixing of American society.
His novel Cane was widely acclaimed as a new voice in literature. In it Toomer combines poetry, short stories and theater dialogue into a fluid vehicle for story telling. Cane is written in a unique style that broadened the idea of the modern novel. The sonnet below is an excerpt from Cain.
On a side note, Toomer and I have something in common, in that we both studied Agriculture at a land grant University, in his case the University of Wisconsin.
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
By T. A. Fry
Crooked handle, points of light, Ladle full of black delight, Obscured from sight or burning bright, The dipper points due north.
It’s infinite, a soup of dreams. Laughter broth with tiger cream, For pig-tailed girls, little boys lean Who dare to venture forth.
What of those who turn away? Or hunker down and choose to stay. Who hate the night, embrace the day, And face the sunshine south.
Restraint is in the milky way, River of light, come what may. For roosters crow and donkeys bray With a smiling mouth.
Then there’s those that love the moon. It’s gentle light, a babies croon, A swooping owl, a laughing loon, Peace rises in the east.
The moon it waxes and it wanes, Outside our doors and window panes. Old or young, it’s all the same. The grateful at a feast.
Adventurers and nestled stones, Withered muscle, sturdy bone, A crowded dance or home alone, Our lonely sun sails west.
The sun it rises and it sets, The miser saves, the gambler bets A desert’s dry, an ocean’s wet, Your love my welcome guest.