Brian Gilmore

billy eckstine comes to washington, d.c.

(for gaston neal)

he strolled in
w/ amiri baraka

decked out in
a long dark
trench coat
yesser Arafat


made me think of
black panthers

only he wasn’t no painter
because he wasn’t smiling
like romare bearden
and he wasn’t no panther
so I was told

he was carrying
poems and
the people
were his politics

we all thought
he might read a few
but he didn’t
wasn’t time yet
“mumbo sauce please!
mumbo sauce please!”

dripping thick over deep-
fried chicken wings
served w/o napkins

i met him years later
he told me
about my city
how he was there
on 14th street
when “murder one”
left junkies laid out
in alleys with needles
in arms
soaring like
baseballs over
banneker playground

he told me he talked to
langston hughes over the phone
langston treated him like
they had known each other
for 49 years
like they had grown
up together in
joplin, missouri,

back in the day he was there
on u street with stokely when
word came that the king was dead
and the country would burn
break crack and wail

sometimes i look at him
see my grandfather
on the porch preaching
about unions
or willie “the lion” smith
at the piano
reminding young upstarts
that his fingers can
still dance like
chorus girls
rehearsing for
a show

other times i look at him
my friends and i are sharing
cold beer
bragging about dunking
reverse layups
pool games
we no longer have time
to play

i finally did hear
his poetry
now i know why
pennsylvania steel towners
need other neighborhoods to love

down the lazy river to rebel w/
the rest
fight off “the horse”
like jack Johnson running from

the mann act
shaking it loose from his body
until the horse finds
weaker souls

no more rides on the horse these days
this body ain’t no amusement park

Pittsburgh headed
to washington, d.c., to
write some songs

like billy eckstine
coming here, a second life
is lived

but don’t call this
no dickens tale


Reprinted from We Didn’t Know Any Gangsters by Brian Gilmore, Cherry Castle Publishing, 2014


Gaston Neal (1934 – 1999) was active in the Black Arts Movement. Born in Pittsburgh, he moved to DC in the 1960s and founded the Drum and Spear Bookstore, co-founded the New School of Afro-American Thought, and established one of the earliest poetry residency programs for the DC Public Schools, at Eastern High School. He taught poetry workshops at the DC Jail and for the DC Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services Administration, and worked as a drug counselor. His writing was strongly influenced by jazz, and for eleven years, he co-ran “The Listening Group,” a monthly salon. He was married and the father of two daughters. His poems appear in numerous anthologies, including Black FireBlack Power Revolt, and Voices of Struggle.

Brian Gilmore is a poet, writer, and columnist with the Progressive Media Project. He is the author of three collections of poetry, elvis presley is alive and well and living in harlem (Third World Press, 1993), Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags (Karibu Books, 2001), and his latest, We Didn't Know Any Gangsters (Cherry Castle, 2014). He has published in The Progressive, The Nation, The Washington Post, Book Forum, The Baltimore Sun, and Jubilat. He currently teaches at the Michigan State University College of Law. He divides his time between Michigan and his beloved birthplace, Washington, DC. To read more by this author: Brian Gilmore, Spring 2001; Brian Gilmore's Introduction to The "Woodshed" Issue, Fall 2001; Brian Gilmore on Waring Cuney: Memorial Issue; Brian Gilmore: DC Places Issue; Brian Gilmore: Evolving City Issue; Brian Gilmore: Split This Rock Issue; Brian Gilmore: Audio Issue; Brian Gilmore: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue; Brian Gilmore on Drum & Spear Bookstore: Literary Organizations Issue; Brian Gilmore: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue.