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Jeffery Renard Allen's Poetry

Hush Arbor
           --for Mahalia Jackson

 

          I.

 

He moves in red shocks
Shells and shucks,
a furious rhythm soon to be forgotten

 

Tight-fisted buds exact blood-demand from
white-willed hands

 

Generals give out
Soldiers drone

 

Declare witness in the
sawed-off voice of
short season

 

Strong sway cut
blade song and pine-knot glow

 

           II.

 

Wanders the riverfront
           a child thinking way out of the beyond

 

Splinters old barges with her
snake-headed ax

 

Nothing strange in that
kindling for the homefires

 

Sack mean-eyed coal from
Beasaw tracks

 

Sweet potato and ash

 

Life lived
          lean, lard

 

Back'a town
           Water and Audubon
funeral glory
           New Orleans Second Line
and a preacher with seed-specked teeth

 

Got jus one thing to tell you:
cry coming/laugh going

 

Joy on the first floor
           Sorrow on the second

 

So Swing Mr. Adam
Swing Miss Eve
Swing Mr. Adam before you leave

 

                      III.

 

Fire take the church
Heart commence to turn over
Great Lord! The whole thing been jump

 

                      IV.

 

Snatch hold a prophet's tail
hang and ride
high-ease, clean ties and planks
Panama Limited, City of New Orleans or some such

 

Remove yo hat and let your hair hang
like a willow tree

 

Chunk them countrified ways on
coat rack

 

Useless here

 

Draw up them wide muddy shoulders and
knock this city off
her feet

 

Move on up
Downhome

 

Take your place at the welcome table
dram and drink steaming up steaming up
big black iron pot
and all manner of meat

 

                     V.

 

Mr. Dorsey say,
"Blues don't own no notes

 

"You can embellish all you want
but don't kill the singer"

 

This Miss Jackson, she
                                old line caller
                                    she
                     new line blues

 

Eagles running with the chickens

 

                     VI.

 

Crab-grass a-dyin, lookin mighty fine
Sun in the west, somephun glistenin on my vine

 

"Gon drive this big fat hog
by the name of Mr. C
Deliver deliver deliver
Me
If you see my saviour
Tell Him, Thanks a lot"

 

Said he would
Said he would

 

"What pay I got he need?
Tell you what,
sing him up real fine"

 

A cash-padded peacock
in a lavender leather nest

 

"Lil ole me
fish and bread singer"

 

                    VII.

 

Tree limb couldn't hold me
Ditch sho tried
Jumped the gun for freedom
Closer every stride

 

"I ain't comin to Montgomery
to make no money off them
walkin folks!"

 

                      VIII.

 

Her seven-branched chair
satin seat
burnished throne

antique

 

His seven-silked hat
pear-handled eyes
and rat's alley dice

 

Nerves bad tonight

 

She drops a question on his plate
which steams up locomotive-like
with the hamhocks

 

How to begin?
He smooths his smooth hair
(Her-Tru-Line removes curls and kinks)
Sips his iced tea
Holds his response in his throat

 

She clutches a chicken leg to chin teddy bear-like
Curls into sleep

 

                    IX.

 

Mr. Lazarus
stand at the door
knock

 

She's found
She's found

 

Unused words bleed
under the skin

 

This side of Judgment
           the yearned light does not free you

 

February 13, 1999 – March 16, 1999