An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
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  • At Sun Ra's Grave

    Birmingham, 2001

    Now our god's dismantled,
    iron arms, iron hands now laid away,
    vacant head beside his vacant feet.
    Vulcan, God of All the Fire
    That Sleeps in Mountains
    now a brash of empty veins.
    Now only broadcast towers
    lance the night, their amber pulse
    the city's only torches,
    and below, where the terminal station
    blazed 10,000 lights in welcome,
    Birmingham: The Magic City,
    now expressway scars the blank
    and even the streets are gone
    where you walked as Herman,
    then Sonny, musician, mystic
    man from Saturn, in your tinfoil hat
    and bedsheet robe, and even
    the house is gone, the room
    where you played by radio light,
    slowly casting off your names.

    *

    Now derelicts keep the rails
    from the furnaces to the dead West End.
    They nest in boxcars and dance-hall doors
    boarded up to keep the silence in.
    They rattle White and Colored signs
    from scrapheaps and campfire on the slag.
    They drift, split in lunchcounter windows
    then crossing on streetcorners
    where firemen hosed the marchers down,
    attack dogs gnashing at their heels.
    In Kelly Ingram Park, they haunt
    bronze water cannons, bronze children
    washed in sodium light. They rake
    the teeth of cut-steel pinschers,
    praying change from their metal tongues.
    One lies beneath a swayback boy
    hung in a bronze policeman's grip.
    Dew rises through the halflight,
    a gauze, departing wings.

    *

    One drifts in the neon glow of the church's sign,
    News wrapped tight around him. In the fold
    below his shoulder, the Blanton trial is winding down,
    the bomber abandoned, given up by his son,
    ex-wife, and neighbors, tapes that have him saying
    They ain't going to catch me when I bomb my next church.
    In this light he can see the steps where they hid the sitcks
    are gone, the stained-glass face of Christ,
    rasied from shards now glows, its angle
    an aftermath. But the rush, the wind's still here.
    Wet night air spreads name from name,
    pulling the sheets from his grip, high into the night.

    *

    Papers wing through the creosote dim,
    over Kelly Ingram and Alabama Power,
    through gold Electra's lightning fists
    and Linn Park's fountains to the jailhouse
    where Blanton waits his verdict, where Cherry
    waits for trial. They tissue like smoke
    over the interstate, split, descending,
    into Fountain Heights, into Oak Hill's graves,
    into east-side projects where clothesline billow
    and shifts and shirts drift like porters
    through the depot's blank. Scatters
    spread over Rickwood, over Dynamite Hill
    and Tuxedo Junction's boarded jukes,
    descending like night herons
    into Elmwood where you wait
    beneath a stone and a secret name.

    *

    There are angels. There are angels!
    you said: They guard and watch.
    Tonight, their sudden wings
    multiply the city's glitter,
    the universe whose stars,
    you said, are writing of the destiny
    of those within the hand of fate.
    Tonight, the haunt the ridge
    where Vulcan's gauntlets
    hold no torch, no iron,
    and the streets below where
    no dynamite novas bloom.
    In abandoned halls, pianos
    hold their farewell notes,
    radios tremble quietly.
    All that is empty is space
    like a broken mouth.
    A sleep curls there
    till the righteous sounds emerge.

     

    Published in A Murmuration of Starlings (2008).
    Text may vary slightly from the video reading.

    Published: 1 April 2008
    © 2008 Jake Adam York and Southern Spaces