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