Brian Gilmore

Five Poems

come back charleston blue (after larry neal)

for church burners
& other misguided

persons. do come
quickly. we are more

fed up than monks
over vietnam.

something bad might
happen if you don’t

show, brother. not that
race war some pray

for. something complex
& hard to under-

stand. like the word

so hurry now
charleston blue

don’t forget your
straight razor. your

lady still has it
i’ve been told.

sharpened &
still shining, like

a star at night in
a place called harlem

it is there waiting for
your delicate hands.

right where you left it
last time you were here.



& they came in the apartment, one by one,
to a room in the back that was seemingly set
aside for all of it. dr. dre on the cd player:
the california psychosis. smoke throughout
the room, chips, & cheap sodas, they smoke
reefer like they are popping mints or jelly beans.
they all have the same routine when they settle
in: they check their pagers, set them to silent,
drop wads of cash wrapped in rubber bands
into a shoebox in the corner. it is nothing. as if
they are saving for a rainy day & this is the
family fund. some set down pistols. keep them
close, a habit they have learned to respect. the
television plays music videos on the black owned
station. mostly the latest hip-hop from across
the nation that is their memoir: half naked women,
violent orations, short journeys through cities deader
than them. they are young boys. they aren’t going
to be alive much longer &/or free. they knew that
it didn’t have to be this way, but it is. too late for
a re-write. this is not a television script anyway; yet,
it is. we all know this. like we know water freezes at
32, the sun rises in the east, & smoked filled rooms
full of cheap sodas, chips, guns, & wads of dirty bills
is no place for the living.


confederate flag, michigan #1

“I’ve never flown that flag with any hate in my heart. Not one ounce.”
Kid Rock, Detroit (2011)

north wind blows wildly.
two boys come out. take
it down. fold it careful &
slow, like at a funeral.



confederate flag, michigan #2

one of those license
tags on the front of
a pick-up truck.


bent & cracked

faded in color

nearly falling


amiri baraka, d.c. space, 1989

“space is the place…”
sun ra

leroi eats too much pork. he’s sweating a lake
in the lights. he was drinking light beer on the train
down from city brick, i bet. in his element like always
but the space got him all shook up. he look a little like
otis blackwell anyway but don’t write tunes for presley or
jerry lee. he got a gap in his fronts &
a northern chant, the south is never too far away.

they are closing this place, we have been told. leroi has come
for one of the last of his shouts. not many dives in this town
will risk being molotoved. coffee beans & wi fi will
replace the rage just like every little tavern it seems sells
chinese cuisine now. that is a long way off from this beatnik
black banjo. is that sonny murray slobbering on
the snare barely clutching his mallets?

leroi keeps it apocalyptically short.
he’s grace jones in paris, sun ra with hand grenades,
ronald reagan is a junkie. george bush a

once they had poets read in here all night. once they
had poets read here all day. once they had poets
reading here…

buy some starbucks.

enjoy your chai mocha latte
& some vanilla scones.

but space is the place.

space is the place.

space is the place.

now, somebody turn off that wi fi
& watch america get blown up.


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.