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Waterways: Poetry in the Mainstream, March 2003
The music vaguely echoes the Forties: a saxophone content to muse over the melody without drawing attention to itself — a non-violent, philosophical saxophone. Albert Huffstickler
from Working on My Death Chant in the Hyde Park Bar and Grill Waterways, July ’90
also published in Aileron, Austin, TX, vol. 10, No. 1, 1989
WATERWAYS: Poetry in the Mainstream
Volume 24 Number 3 Designed, Edited and Published by Richard Spiegel & Barbara Fisher Thomas Perry, Admirable Factotum March, 2003
Herman Slotkin Joan Seifert Sylvia Manning Gertrude Morris Robert Cooperman
c o n t e n t s
4-6 7-10 11-14 15-18 19
Geoff Stevens Bill Roberts David Michael Nixon Ida Fasel
20 21-23 24-25 26-28
Waterways is published 11 times a year. Subscriptions -- $25 a year. Sample issues — $2.60 (includes postage). Submissions will be returned only if accompanied by a stamped, self addressed envelope. Waterways, 393 St. Pauls Avenue, Staten Island, New York 10304-2127 ©2003, Ten Penny Players Inc. http://www.tenpennyplayers.org
Then the dancers: limbs and heads in lilting lines evolve in pure intimacy; every lift, turn, dive, and catch is a covenant of love and trust. I need pure intimacy. I want love and trust. I must learn the discipline. I must risk the dance.
First the music: rhythms pulse patterns on taut tissues; melodies speculate in moods.
THE DANCE — Herman Slotkin
DANCING — Herman Slotkin
We dance through life, waltzing to a fox-trot, calling it a tango, loving the dancing, wishing it was truer to the music.
They rap tap on sympathetic skins; word-song tambourines tendrils to feeling like the flaring of kindling. Meanings float and flash daring me to grasp and go along for the ride.
In the turbid twilight before deep sleep, as in the uneven caesuras of day to day, poems haunt.
THE RIDE — Herman Slotkin
Whistle-wailing droning from the night train: would the engineer have been amused to know how eagerly we listened for that sound? Rhythm and recurring code, well-being, passed along, dim at first, then growing, then dim again, on-going.
*train’s whistle signal: approaching crossing, bridge, or tunnel
“Long, long, short, long”—*
OLD NIGHT TRAIN — Joan Seifert
Every hope was for the constancy.
“Long, long, short, long” hymn of inner refuge: “watchfulness is happening; all is well”.
Years ago across the prairie, the night train wound its softly-clicking way through town, and sleep came gently. Remember how it felt to have no care?
HINTS THAT LISTENING BRINGS — Joan Seifert
near San Juan Capistrano Mission, San Antonio Texas
Old San Juan Mission’s bell has run almost three centuries, now. Daily call to prayer still understood through time; there’s steadfastness in its pensive peal. Not far away, the city’s strident neon claims the busy day, flashing some assumed human need, boisterous traffic clatter drowns any hope of quietude.
But listen; history echoes in other bells, small, faint jingling bells of grazing goats. They still forage, placid, near the ancient mission, as goats have always grazed out there, secure, where there’s no need of tethers. Their signaling bells bring recognition, rescue of loose dogs, or danger, threaten. Strays are always found that way. It’s worked for centuries.
We’ve played that Beatle collection till it’s no longer groovy in these years since he came to need our care. He likes Elvis too, but prefers his movies. It’s the Beatles’ collection that’s the worst for wear.
His request of life is music before coffee. We’ve played a Beatles collection till it’s no longer groovy. Every once in a while he asks for Willy; He likes Elvis, too, but prefers his movies.
Year after year, day after day his request of life is music before coffee. “Put the Beatles!” — like a new idea — he’ll say, or every once in a while, “Willy!”
PANTOUM FOR TOM — Sylvia Manning
As his body grows weaker his health seems surprisingly sound. His movements, his state of mind depend on what we play. If it’s Willy, it’s like an old lost friend’s been found, but year after year, day after day.
We’ve given him all the music he needs and then some. As his body grows weaker, his health seems surprisingly sound. He’s learned to find even classical music winsome, but with Willy, it’s like an old lost friend’s been found.
In these years since he came to need our care we’ve given him all the music he needs, and then some. It’s the Beatles’ collection that’s by far the worst for wear. But he’s learned to find even classical music winsome.
June 9, 2003, Palmview, Texas
Scott Joplin was born here.
I’M STILL ABLE TO FEEL PRIDE IN TEXAS BECAUSE — Sylvia Manning
I am staying sane in this barbarian state which has brought the world to rack and ruin too often by learning to play Scott Joplin’s rag.
I’d tell you what year but my old Britannica, which does list Janice, of whom I’m also a little proud, of course, deems not even honorable mention of the great Scott Joplin.
In Texarkana, so who knows? I doubt anyone bothered to keep good records of where poor black babies were born back then. It could have been the other side of town, in Arkansas.
And when it happens right, and only then, the shame dissipates slightly, the rag becomes the house girl pretending to be just dusting the keys, and though I still cry, it will never be as loud as Janis could; and though he still died, I suspend disbelief and let belief exist, as surely as a soft soiled rag, in the air of the dusty state where he was born, on a borderline, the great Scott Joplin.
It’s very hard, as was his life— but sometimes, oh sometimes (and when it happens right you know you’ve sat in for a servant stealing moments at the keys of the big house) it is so poignantly soft.
and rushes reminded me of Lady Day, how the lyrics, clear and plain as water,
Your singing touched me so, I wish I could have told you — too late now — how the broad stops
Next time you kissed my lover, I’d have said: How about planting one on my white cheek?
Before that concert in the Atrium, You kissed a few black guys in their 70’s.
Dear Etta Jones: You must have known me; I followed you everywhere.
LETTER TO ETTA — Gertrude Morris
And I have only your tapes to play, Still sweetening my bitter.
And now, you’re gone, sweet singer, my irreplaceable you.
will hurt you when he has to go, taking the only love you ever knew.
it is, was, and will be. How time passes and love remains. How the one you love
told me all I had to know. And I said to myself: Yes. How true. This is what
concert of African High Life music in St. Mark’s Park
When the drummer cradled and tossed his bead-sheathed gourd, and shook: Tch! Tch! Tch!
*Akyeni Baako: First Drum. Akian language. West Africa.
I could imagine crowned cranes browsing among the graves, beaks arrowing East in seas of papyrus..
When drums beat, and a bamboo balaphon dropped melons of sound on stone to the growl of Second Avenue,
AKYENI BAAKO* — Gertrude Morris
reaching up the tall spire to the Light where God’s great, brown laugh thundered like First Drum, shaking the world.
Now the dust rose like ghosts of Masai leaping in a trance of lions, whirling the wheaten mane of lions’ gold,
even the old felt the itch in their thin bones and their feet told them to get up and dance!
WATCHING CHANUKAH CANDLES BURN — Robert Cooperman Just before the candles die, We light the candles flames spurt and say a short English in tiny supernovas, prayer for peace on earth, then gutter, smoke and health and happiness spiraling, as if souls for everyone we love, flown off toe heaven, then watch the wax or sending small messages carve blue, red, into the universe: and yellow stalactites that, for the moment on the menorah’s scrollwork. at least, everything “It’s like being back is well with the world, in the caves,” Beth murmurs even if we know as the flames leap for a dead certainty almost as if they’re gazelles it isn’t. dancing over savannahs.
DEATH FUGUE TO THE LONDON PALM COURT ORCHESTRA — Geoff Stevens Forget the risk of catching something serious, I found the dirty sax of Rudi Pompelli much more infectious than the earlier sons of Adolphe whose melodiously innocuous sounds cropped up in 40’s dancebands. I was in 50’s England when the rock saxophonists goose-stepped their music into Europe and I loved it though previously no fanatic of the bass section
A MELODRAMA IN SIX REVERSIBLE ACTS OR ADVENT OF THE IRON HORSE COMING WEST — Bill Roberts
Curtain closes, lights come up. Woman and screaming child take bows. Cowboy too dead to return. Act Five
Dangerously pregnant wife visits cowboy in jail. Forced to miss hanging by arrival of child. Names son after the cowboy father.
Cowboy says aloud to himself he must cross state. Curses his luck, hangs his head. Curtain falls as he looks straight into horse’s one eye. Another man approaches steadily on a horse. Stops, asks cowboy to watch horse. Disappears to right of stage.
Cowboy rides hard across Missouri on one-eyed horse. Dust storm behind him looks ominous. Finally apprehended at border.
Cowboy looks in vain for train tracks. Finds none, issues expletive. Walks in circles.
IN MELTING MIST — David Michael Nixon Now we can see the openings in the ground fog and steer our way along the uneven ground.
Sun has begun to dissipate the fog slowly and patience picks a path for feet, knowing that more will come clear as the morning warms.
Meanwhile, we hum a quiet tune, the notes barely penetrating the melting mist, so that our song precedes us, floating over portions of the landscape which are still veiled to feet.
First appeared in Blueline
BETWEEN BINGEN AND KOBLENZ — Ida Fasel Heathrow on strike. Elgin Marbles in litigation. Gothic sinks under all its alterations and accommodations. I pay my respects at a presumed birthplace; hear another Hamlet; keep vigil at an old admiration, the cottage where Milton made his final ascent in visions on high.
Fast trains, competing skyscrapers, accent scoffers. My foot rubs red on cobblestones. The Tintoretto stolen. At the great bronze doors a lightness, burden lifted, panic of relief. Gone, gone utterly my overstuffed purse! Mother would say, “Be more attentive.”
A male quartet (the brochures never told us) beams Lorelei’s allure bei stereo to glut of barges, passing tonnage. “Is that all?” — a voice among us.
Up the cluttered Rhine, round the point — the rush is on. The tour boat tilts to the side we have brought our senses miles to see. There! The celebrated rock cuts clear of surfaces. Each stark line sweeps into briefly possible’s brief traces.
But I was! — not wanting to miss a detail, in small space so fully told the ancient bible stories set in new perspective. An unscheduled trip to American Express restores confidence in my tourist’s eye.
I follow the folds of her garments down old stone to the water’s edge. Her golden rings ripple. She tosses back her golden hair to show her face in what the sky is up to, the legend reflected intact.
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