The City Poet On The Stroll

my fast walking buddy slowed down
for forever he’s spun ’round corners
his hustle in his bag, his habit in overdrive
too quick for the breeze; too slick for the roller

14th & u changed colors in the streaking seasons
before & after us. jelly roll, hustler to the bone
the lordly duke, swooped through here, derbied
& spatted, wolfing on soft-hatted women
all fine in their honeyed aspect

walls of his heart, cool blow that whips
the flame, the corner’s dancing gravitons
pull the brown swells home
my buddy’s base spot in pittsburgh
the crawford grill, housed bebop liberated
hip boys swung out of cab’s neat seats
with reet pleats into yardbird’s redefined tweeds
& shades. my hip talking buddy
told stories of the pittsburgh hill: murphy men

playing on the respectable greedy. knife fights
in the pool room that didn’t even stop the games
my buddy danced them to life for white
the mad painter, & me

in our new day, ’56-’57, 9th & u, 14th & u
sweet & sour georgia avenue, were as swinging
as d.c. owned. some flicks in this block
latin dance in that loft, hardbop in this basement
brown bags in that cabaret, fats domino
& pegleg bates at the howard. i knew
the facades & parlors; my quick stepping
buddy knew the back rooms & alleys
upstairs at abarts buck & gus & stump let me sing on the last set

to a near empty room; i like to think because the squares
had split & they thought the crowd down enough
but in truth they were tired so here, a.b., have the mike
angel eyes in c. i wanted a cool like johnny hartman’s
my next buddy didn’t care. he wanted to rap about the mallarmé
in my back pocket. i knew books but craved the corners
city poets from baudelaire to langston had told me of
he knew the streets but craved the books he had no guide for

……………………………….he said

so go there with me. i know hard nuance
that will decorate the rills of your brain
with glow & shadow. rooms of this limp city
where men still jam the delta blues in time
to the rimshot percussion of dice against the baseboard
know back doors to alleys where the trade
is in pleasures of the edge of the skin. the senses
order rules: you learn to see as the blind see
with the light of knowing what the books
don’t teach. with the omniscient eye
of living when the power wants you dead

……………………………….yes, i said

come here with me. i know verse
that will not leave you even as the years
abbreviate memory. lines to make a family
of. show you that thought you almost had
when the gray sickness enclosed you &
the scream wouldn’t sound. how like the streets
the broken-line page is: you read it down
below your reason, down beneath the bottom
where mad lost truth cringes & hides


but the streets are treacherous in their virtue
scag poisoned my swift stepping buddy, put
a dip in his stance & a slide in his stride. snaked
a new set of veins all through him. tracked a map
of scars ’round his now tilting form. scag
whored his love of books. bent the eye
the radical of his poems, down to corrupted
concrete earth. still my book-hustling buddy
made a lyric of the stroll, sang poems of walls
made of roaches near the ’64 14th & u
where the demon dooji hung

no blood-humping parasite could eat my buddy
whole. i saw him build a school of pan-african
dreams where the art of struggle crossed
the bloody waters from home to home: black
flame of the burning streets, flame of the muted
poor, flame of his flaming corner. he danced
through the crumbling walls with mad men &
mad dogs, screaming, kill martin? kill malcolm?
……………………………….kill me

we are not the only people who celebrate the death
of our heroes by dying; are not alone in our festival
of bones; do not sing solo before the tumescent flame
we pantomime war in our dance of release & ululate
‘fire’ in chorus at the brilliant air till it burns our throats
& call it victory. we are alone in this collective isolation
this black isthmus where i eats i & america, jailer & father
gives us the material to construct heroes better than cities

from that time he hears the near teutonic music
of jackboots breaking the air as they descend
toward his face. no fault there. it is the nature
of jackboot wearers to abhor the cries of those
whom they have caused to hurt, to crave silence
from the voice-warriors of the burning night

no fault here. my heart-first buddy hooked
the corners the alleys the readers & rappers
to the fire & sirens. brought the brown classes
to the venue of the city poem where dawn
is closure for the after-hours hustler, the moon
a lamp to work by, faith is the next vein shot
& hope is the will not to die today

my flipped-out buddy knows such madness
has value, out too far, in too deep, stability
of water, figments encircle the eye, this is
the buddy who took pound’s chair at st. e’s
who nursed lovers through the deathside of suicide
who taught verse to his cellmates at lorton

ah, but my fast walking buddy slowed down
jewel did this. she is a dancer & showed him
where the body ends. not at the flesh’s tips
but with the shapes embossed in air when the form
flies away. jewel is a mother & taught him where
the body ends. not with images stranged in space
but at the core of her where new life curls & moves
jewel is a lover who took him where the body does not end

the great good love slowed my buddy down

Copyright © 2008 by A. B. Spellman