It wasn’t his bridge, of course.
It wasn’t even his city, and it certainly wasn’t
his world. It’s your world, jazz music says,
I’m just living in it. And the world’s a workshop.
Sonny was different, though. Even for one
we’d call young gifted & black without being
bromidic. Sonny heard so much but mostly
only listened to himself, waiting and creating
his own kind of way, expressing everything.
How do we describe the kind of man already
in rarified air deciding he wasn’t high enough
(having already eschewed the artificial ecstasy
that ruins veins and soils brains, Body and Soul)?
This colossus, keeping his own council, split
his apartment to set up shop in the crow’s nest
of the Williamsburg Bridge, perhaps the one
place aside from the Arctic Circle where no one
could see or hear history being picked apart
like a carcass, and then reassembled in real time.
Three years of this. Almost a thousand days
while the world spun, the cash registers rung,
and so many pretenders to the throne ascended
for lack of better options. Sun turned to snow
and dawn turned to dark and there were still
all those sounds: a style being tweaked, a gift
being refined, an experiment being improvised.
The quest for vision, it’s said, will make
otherwise steady men see outlandish sights:
as they deprive themselves of human fuel
they become something at once less & more
than a vessel; the spirits speak to and through
them and once that barrier is broken, one sees
oneself changed, then begins changing the world.
(*In 1959, feeling pressured by his unexpected rise to fame, Rollins took a three-year hiatus to focus on perfecting his craft. A resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan with no private space to play, he took his saxophone up to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice alone.)
Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. His work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and @bullmurph.
Maybe Dai Morgan followed by the blackbird,
maybe the blackbird first, and Dai, seconds later,
coming in from his walk, old-sailor-rolling.
Anchored in my gateway we greet the day.
Steve the postman is predictable enough,
last Saturday’s results and football talk,
but the blackbird now is joyously above us,
has soared in his song to the telephone wire,
giving out carol, giving out spring, old Orange Beak.
Then a mother and her son of two years old.
She’s pretty, smiling, it’s kind-to-all morning
and she’s registering maybe “two old boys”.
The little boy takes in perhaps the legs,
four legs in corduroy athwart his path.
He gazes up at Dai’s and my crow’s nest.
And the morning’s people now enact the rites
of a fresh May, Smartphones half-neglected
in a willingness to see some good around us.
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet who has been published widely in Britain and the USA. In 2017 he was shortlisted for the Wordsworth Trust Prize in the UK and he has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in the US.
Waking, I try to drag
my dream into the day
but it stays behind
hiding in the clouds
no more mine
than air itself.
In my chair by the window
I reach for what is
out of reach.
Will this be the day we rise
and demand justice?
The day we defeat
The day the angels sing?
Outside birds busy
themselves with life.
I watch for a miracle
in the morning light.
Sally Zakariya’s poetry has appeared in some 75 print and online journals and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her most recent publication is Muslim Wife (Blue Lyra Press, 2019). She is also the author of The Unknowable Mystery of Other People, Personal Astronomy, When You Escape, Insectomania, and Arithmetic and other verses, as well as the editor of a poetry anthology, Joys of the Table. Zakariya blogs at www.butdoesitrhyme.com.
It was intoxicating, heady, wild
to drink forbidden liquor from the bowl
that led us unsuspecting, yes, beguiled
to lend the brazen god our very soul.
With placards as our thyrses lifted high,
we clambered up the hill reciting chants,
feverish with need to falsify
the pestilential truths that threaten dance.
Euphoric in our frenzied shibboleths,
our malice, fear and churlishness unmasked,
we taunted and defied the looming deaths
whose meaning we, as one, refused to grasp.
Now winter’s come, his power had to fade.
And we, unblinded, see the masquerade.
Mary Hills Kuck
Having retired from teaching English and Communications, first in the US and for many years in Jamaica, Mary Hills Kuck now lives with her family in Massachusetts. She has received a Pushcart Prize Nomination and her poems have appeared in Connecticut River Review, SIMUL: Lutheran Voices in Poetry, Caduceus, The Jamaica Observer Bookends, Fire Stick: A Collection of New & Established Caribbean Poets, the Aurorean, Tipton Poetry Journal, Slant, Main St. Rag, Burningword Literary Journal, and others. Her chapbook, Intermittent Sacraments, will be published by Finishing Line Press in June, 2021.
Gusts and ghosts, the rattle of traps, the tap of rain asking to be let in or out. It’s still January but the year’s already tired of itself, tossing calendars in the recycling and putting down deposits on a whole new set of dates. I’m finding it hard to distinguish between sleeping and waking as I sit to break bread with schoolmates I’ve not seen since the 60s. I know that most of them are dead, but they don’t, and to tell them seems unfair, or at least a breach of unstated etiquette; so, I answer their questions about my job and why everyone’s wearing masks, and pass the new potatoes clockwise around the table. All the while, those tiny sounds of an old house in an old year are converging into something that’s close enough to music for those kids from the Music Club to pull out their fiddles and accordions and join in with the squeaks and sighs. Everyone is leaning in and smiling, chorusing a song of rain and paper-thin leaves, and plumping pumpkins; but when I take a photo to share online – #justlikehalloween #goodtimes – even my own face is missing.
Oz Hardwick is a European poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been published and performed internationally in and on diverse media. His prose poetry chapbook Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI, 2018) won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and his most recent publication is the prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet (Clevedon: Hedgehog, 2020). He has also edited or co-edited several anthologies, including The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019) with Anne Caldwell. Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the postgraduate Creative Writing programmes. www.ozhardwick.co.uk
Seventeen, quit school, lied my way
into nineteen and a night-shift job.
When the world settled into dusk,
I’d ride the Bathurst streetcar to the stockyards,
walk past the cattle pens, gusts off the lake
braiding their calls with the growl
of shunting box-cars.
I worked alone, hauled skids of meat
through a maze of rooms and freight elevators,
buzz-saw of neon slicing the silence.
Within an hour I’d be talking to myself
pushing the skid–loader, singing
songs to keep from being haunted,
the endless body parts and boxed meat.
After midnight, I’d go out the sixth-floor fire escape,
look for the north star, an imposter
lying without knowing why.
The world still as a dead sparrow,
I mined dreams from the dark hallways,
thought that when I’d made enough,
I’d take the train across the prairies
before the snow came, find a way to start over.
Day men brought the rumors of light,
prodded the steers up to an elevated pen.
Shot, the floor split open and the body
slid down a chute to the kill floor,
cut apart in twelve minutes.
How fast life vanished,
how little time there was
if you were ever caught lying.
I’d walk to the time-clock room, surprised
to see my name-card with all the others,
bellowed two-note laments riding the air
before the slam of the floor-gate.
Out in the land of schemes, calls
sticking to me like the smell of wood-smoke,
I’d drift to sleep at the back
of the morning’s first street-car,
rail-joints click-clack heartbeat.
Mark Burke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the North American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Sugar House Review, Nimrod International Journal and others. His work has recently been nominated for a Pushcart prize. See: markanthonyburkesongsandpoems.com