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Jeffery Renard Allen's Poetry

Hush Arbor
           --for Mahalia Jackson




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




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




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




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


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




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
                     new line blues


Eagles running with the chickens




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
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"




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!"




Her seven-branched chair
satin seat
burnished throne



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




Mr. Lazarus
stand at the door


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