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Category: Audio Poems

Poetry Reading: A Few Recent Poems


Now that I live in Alabama, and most of you don’t, I decided to make a short recording of several recent poems for those of you who can’t come to my live readings. This lasts about 10 minutes, and was recorded in my bedroom on a rainy night in Auburn. Enjoy!

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POEM: Popcorn Shrimp At The Crossroads

Listen to this poem using the player above.

Popcorn Shrimp At The Crossroads

A young man with an acoustic guitar
wearing a black suit and a fedora
is trying to resuscitate Robert Johnson
in a concrete shrimp shack painted like
the inside of Jim Morrison’s head.
It’s a long way from the crossroads
where Johnson made his bargain.

Either the music’s too loud or
I’m too old. I’m worried it’s the latter.
The groove is good, though, making
me wish I had my saxophone, which
is back in Brooklyn with so many other
things I wish I had.

Once again I’m using napkins
to capture a poem.
For never having had a drink,
I’ve written many of my poems on
napkins taken off bars with pens
borrowed from bartenders.

It’s hard to learn something isn’t
your scene anymore. Now I’m
happy with a book and a cup of tea
or a good record and someone to
listen to it with me. But I came
because someone asked and
if you don’t understand this
sentence then this must be
the first of my poems
you’ve heard.

2 December 2012
Auburn, AL

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POEM: words of wisdom

words of wisdom

“it’s only a paper moon”

no, that’s not what he’d say

“you’ve got to take care
of your family first”

is that it? or maybe

“keep your head down
and get a separate room
at the end of the hall”

it’s not as if all his sayings
were collected in a book
this is a guy, after all,
who was famous for not talking

I wish he were here now
because I’m at the bottom
and can’t figure out what to do
I think he’d be a good one to ask

we used to spend most of our time
talking about big bands
or the latest episode of Lawrence Welk

I remembered all the names of the Welk people
even though, truth be told, I’d only seen the show
a few times

but I always knew I could get him talking
if the subject were Pete Fountain
or the Glen Gray band

he took me to my first concert
Pete Fountain and Al Hirt
at The Shell in Canandaigua

two guys from New Orleans on stage
two guys from Pittsfield, Massachusetts
in the audience, swinging

when I wake up, the first things I see
remind me of him: a purple moon,
a vase of flowers, a Parisian riverside

and out here in the living room
another of his paintings
and a cross-stitch of my first initial

did he ever have a long night when he doubted?
when he couldn’t pay the rent and the food
was running out and it was all too much?

he was from a different era, when men
didn’t talk about those kinds of things
they were just expected to hold up their end

he worked at the same place for 48 years
never took a sick day — not one
my resume looks like the classified ads

in later years I heard some rumblings
he was stubborn, his weapon was silence
and I guess that may have been true

I never saw it, though
he was who I wanted to be
a class act

someone called me that yesterday
“a class act”
but I can’t see it

I’d like to be sitting in the passenger seat
of one of the endless parade of white cars
listening to WYLF (the “music of your life”)

maybe he’s driving me to my clarinet lesson
or he and Grandma are taking me to Burger King
or over to their apartment for dinner

Ring Dings and a block of Velveeta in the fridge
potato-chip chicken and mini cheesecakes
broccoli covered in cheese and Ritz crackers

and that old glass coffee mug with the recipe
for Irish coffee on the side, mostly whiskey
with some coffee to take the curse off it

even though by that time neither of them drank
but they always had liquor in the credenza
in case a mixer broke out / it never did

god what I’d give right now to go over there
to explain all this and how it all happened
and ask him to forgive me and to tell me

“I love you and you’ll be OK”

is that what he’d say?


POEM: Matsushima

Listen to this poem using the player above.

A poem about one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I’ve spent quite a bit of time there over the years. I’m translating this one into Japanese, but it’s a difficult process for me.


we sat at the stern of the boat
tossing shrimp-flavored snacks
to the trailing gulls

in the picture, I am smiling

hundreds of tiny islands, each
with its own pine tree
like a flag planted by Mother Earth

“I claim this island in my own name”

Basho, tongue tied, brush quivering
could write nothing but the name
of the place and an exclamation


after, we made tea in a cast-iron pot
suspended from the roof beams
over the coals of the fire

in this picture, too, I am smiling

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stone #23 (my first stone in Japanese)

Listen to the Japanese version of this poem using the player above.

/ / /


today is like other days
I drink tea
I write a poem
I listen to music
I think of you

/ / /

part of a river of stones


stone #22

Listen using the player above.

/ / /

I wake up to the clarinet and trombone
go to sleep to the cornet and saxophone
in between I feel the rhythm of the drum
as I wait for what’s coming to come

/ / /

part of a river of stones


stone #21

Listen using the player above.

coconuts in a winter bus shelter
like finding snowballs on the beach in Maui

/ / /

part of a river of stones

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stone #20

Listen using the player above.

Manhattan photo by Jason Crane (2011)

Fred Astaire is dancing
beneath the haunted building
while the make-believe Irishman
plays reels down below

/ / /

part of a river of stones


POEM: in which we cross east 27th street at high tide

Listen to this poem using the player above.

I went to see Jeff “Tain” Watts, Robert Hurst and Steve Coleman tonight at Jazz Standard. I ended up chatting with Coleman and John Szwed, author of the definitive book on Sun Ra. I put into this poem bits of our conversation, song titles and phrases inspired by the setting and performance.

in which we cross east 27th street at high tide

ancient ways, gold days & spaceways
with an iced tea & a side of fries

how’s the weather in Bahia?
here in New York the street-corner
gutter is a river with no ferry boat

so we turn the string bass on its side
use the bow as a paddle
& since Michael isn’t around
Robert rows us ashore

to the warm lands
where we will know despair no more

(catch the Hail Mary as it spills from her lips)

“how ’bout a hand for the band, the guys?
it ain’t me — we’d play all night”


stone #18

Listen using the player above.

/ / /

the house is just stirring
but I am holding on to sleep
as if it were the warmth
of an absent lover

/ / /

part of a river of stones

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stone #16

Listen using the player above.

/ / /

his small hand in mine
“I love you, Dada”
my arm around his shoulders
“I love you, too”

/ / /

part of a river of stones

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