Rhythm & Blues (1
(for Robert Williams, in exile)
The symbols hang limply
in the street. A forest of objects,
black steaming Christ
meat wood and cars
flesh light and stars
scream each new dawn for
whatever leaves pushed from gentle lips
fire shouted from the loins of history
immense dream of each silence grown to punctuation
against the grey flowers of the world.
I live against them, and hear them, and move
the way they move. Hanged against the night, so many
leaves, not even moving. The women scream tombs
and give the nights a dignity. For his heels
dragged in the brush. For his lips dry as brown wood. As
the simple motion of flesh whipping the air.
An incorrigible motive.
An action so secret it creates.
Men dancing on a beach.
Disappeared laughter erupting as the sea
Controlled eyes now seeing now all
Ears that have grown
to hold their new maps
Enemies that grow
Empty white fingers
against the keys (a drunken foolish stupor
to kill these men
and scream “Economics,” my God, “Economics”
for all the screaming women drunker still, laid out to rest
under the tables of nightclubs
under the thin trees of expensive forests
informed of nothing save the stink of their failure
the peacock insolence of zombie regimes
the diaphanous silence of empty churches
the mock solitude of spastic’s art.
“Love.” My God, (after they
scream “Economics”, these shabby personalities
the pederast anarchist chants against millions of
Elk-Sundays in towns quieter than his. Lunches. Smells
the sidewalk invents, and the crystal music even dumb niggers
hate. They scream it down. They will not hear your jazz. Or
let me tell of the delicate colors of the flag, the graphic blouse
of the beautiful Italian maiden. Afternoon spas
with telephone booths, Butterfingers, grayhaired anonymous
dying with the afternoon. The people of my life
caressed with a silence that only they understand. Let their sons
make wild sounds of their mothers for your pleasure. Or
drive deep wedges in flesh / screaming birds of morning, at
their own. The invisible mountains of New Jersey, linger
where I was born. And the wind on that stone
Street of tinsel, and the jeweled dancers
of Belmont. Stone royalty they tear down
for new buildings where fags invent jellies.
A truth, a slick head, and the pink houses waving
at the night as it approaches. A dead fish truck
full of porters I ran track with, effeminate blues singers, the
of the nation transposed into the ring of my flesh’s image. Grand
spray noise and disorder in these old tombs. Liverwurst sand
on brown fenced-in lawns, unfinished cathedrals tremble with our
Of the dozens, the razor, the cloth, the sheen, all speed adventure
in my eyes. I give you now, to love me, if I spare what flesh of
is left. If I see past what I feel, and call music simply “Art” and
not take it to its logical end. For the death by hanging, for
the death by the hooded political murderer, for the old man dead
tired factory; election machines chime quietly his fraudulent faith.
For the well that marks the burned stores. For the deadly idiot
who shrieks compassion, and bides me love my neighbour. Even
beyond the meaning
of such act as would give all my father’s dead ash to fertilize
land. Such act as would give me legend, “This is the man who
Spared us from the disappearance of the sixteenth note, the
of the scale. This is the man who against the black pits of despair-
cried, “Save the Popular Song.” For them who pat me in the
huddle and do not
argue at the plays. For them who finish second and are happy
they are Chinese,
and need not run these 13 blocks.
I am not moved. I will not move to save them. There is no
“melody.” Only the foot stomped, the roaring harmonies of
hand banged on the table, waved in the air. The teeth pushed
the lip. The face and fingers sweating. “Let me alone,” is
for these musicians.
My own mode of conscience. And guilt, always the obvious
They spread you in the sun, and leave you there, one of a kind,
has no sons to tell this to. The mind so bloated at its own judg-
railing consequence of energy given in silence. Ideas whose sole
is where they form. The language less than the act. The act so
itself, meaning all forms, all modes, all voices, chanting for safety.
I am deaf and blind and lost and will not again sing your quiet
verse. I have lost
even the act of poetry, and writhe now for cool horizonless dawn.
shake and chant, bulled electric motion, figure of what there will
as it sits beside me waiting to live past my own meekness. My
light skin. Bull of yellow perfection, imperfectly made, im-
understood, except as it rises against the mountains, like sun
but brighter, like flame but hotter. There will be those
who will tell you it will be beautiful.
(From The Dead Lecturer (New York: Grove Press, 1964))