for Mervyn Taylor and Keith Louis
Sonny sat on a stool at the edge of the stage
hunched, one foot off the chessboard-tiled
floor at The Blue Coronet in Bed-Stuy;
nodded side to side, pockets hung low,
horn astride, tam with a star, giant of a man.
When the bassist nudged him, Sonny Stitt
rose to his feet, lifted his horn and testified:
They can’t take that away from me.
Many moons ago, on a freezing night with
eyes and ears for a lead on a slow news day,
and flashbulbs popping, and a race from copy
to the hot press, to newsstands, ink wet
on the bundles; that was the night Miles
was shot after leaving The Blue Coronet,
the hitmen leaving behind their call cards.
We got here just in time, at Club 555,
The Baby Grand, Big Maybelle,
The Brooklyn Apollo, Otis, Carla
and The Bar Kays at The Lefferts,
Five Stairsteps at The Albee: Oooh Child!
And things did get easier, got brighter as
we walked in the rays of a beautiful sun
and the light of Sparrow and The Troubadors, light
of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, The Hotel St George,
The East over on Claver, Pharaoh and Sun Ra
lifting off for brighter galaxies, Leon Thomas
yodelling through a cosmos of oils and incense.
The map of light we followed led crosstown to tributaries,
urban canyons, the ‘A’ train rumbling under, dust
kicking up from the grid of air vents, women knowing
when to hold their skirts. The shuttle screeching
overhead, last stop, Franklin Avenue. One flight up
a storefront near Arlington and Fulton, Edward English
sat clutching a canvas bag of poems written
on the long walk from Alabama to the Sahara
as the artist Nat Pickney, his back against the light of four
long windows, painted a blue portrait of the Vagabond Poet.
When the lunch hour whistle blew at Sonar Radio Corp.
on Wortman Avenue, Harry Schwartz would pop a can
of tuna, dig in with a box of Saltines, his magnifying glass
poring through Odds and Handicaps, weights and jockeys
at Aqueduct and Saratoga, the Sports pages of the News.
Friday night Beer Fests at the Schaefer Brewery
in Williamsburg, by the pitcher for a buck, a diet
of aluminum from too many TV dinners and asbestos
in the pores of factories and shipyards, years since
an address in Brooklyn turned out to be a barbershop
long gone, like The Blue Coronet, like Sonny’s Be-Bop,
No, they can’t take that away from me.
for Tony Hall
Your old neighbor, Mister Jay started jumping
the fence when his family put a lock on the gate,
stopped leaving change around the house. Nothing
worked. He walks four miles to Pointe-a-Pierre
brisk and worried the refinery whistle would blast,
the timekeeper blemish his proud and perfect record.
The guard at the gate comes from his booth smiling:
What you doing here, Mister Jay? So long you retired,
so long this plant closed, points up at the chimney:
not a flicker, not a flame. A full head of grey brushed
neatly back, Mister Jay, easy as he came, would be
on his way, till next day. And when the family built
a higher wall, he jumped higher. They moved the lock
altogether. His wife, Miss Sylvia wakes while it is still dark
to cook, pack his lunch in three carriers, begs him, be safe,
watches as he heads out for Pointe-a-Pierre. He will greet
the constable at the gate, and on a corner of the table,
set his tablecloth with parrots on mango trees, share a meal
with the sentry, break bread in silence, chew long, the fat.
for Lord Magic
About the trembling, I told the urologist,
it’s an old story, as long as I remember:
from the jingle of dreams fiddled in a pocket to
a steady hand for details of mas and its kingdoms,
unease juggled and lessons learned. Looking
for work. I went down to the recruiting office
at Southern Headquarters hoping to enlist as
an SRP — mostly because a friend was going,
and I was eighteen . . . I had another thought to be
a barber, since the barbershop was where I spent
long days idling, where Magic said one morning:
Give that man a block and shave. And I sat the man
down in a worn chrome and leather chair, pinned on his
cloth, and with a boar-haired brush, lathered his face.
I flicked a straight razor for the first time, slapping
its carbon blade back and forth smoothly on a strap,
raised the chair a notch by its pedal. He opened his eyes
to the glint of a razor coming with a tremble at his nose.
White with fear and foam he begged off, Please stop.
Magic is sitting over in a corner behind a newspaper,
tears streaming down his face, laughing his ass off.
Il passaggio della morte
(Passage of Death)
At the French-Italian border, a tarpaulin tied to a tree
is a soft-sided structure, doux cote, the holding pen
for Africans who sailed by way of an old Moorish map:
Tunis to Genoa, Nice on the French side. At the checkpoint
corralled by Le Gendarme, they lay face down
without food or water. Sneakers cut away, cellphones
and SIM cards confiscated, they are sent barefoot over
the cold mountain. Covid-19 brought it home how we
drew level, borderless and barefooted against
a terror neither boot or bullet could crush. Who stood guard
at Lombardy when the virus came? Who in Wuhan City,
in Madrid, in New York, in Tulsa, in Tehran? Where was
The Ayatollah against this infidel?
Covid is her name and her kiss is turning
lungs to glass. She seduces you; come,
she is daring Le Gendarme, throw a banana,
the man from the window with his bullhorn,
the girl with the cello on the balcony,
the crowded plaza when the Cubans came,
the young doctor from Havana, a doppelganger
for the boy who led his barefoot army over the cold mountain.
These poems were published in City Twilight (Anaphora Literary Press, 2020). Available at https://www.amazon.com/City-Twilight-Poems-Dawad-Philip/dp/1681145472/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=dawad+philip+city+twilight&qid=1608777902&sr=8-1
Dawad Philip, a longtime Brooklyn resident, is now resettled in his native Trinidad. "City Twilight" (Anaphora 2020) is his latest book of poems and is available at AbeBooks.com