David Kresh

For Léon Damas

1. No Need to Fear Fire

No need to fear fire:
it eats the soft heart hollow.
No need to fear fire:
it eats the pulpy center empty.
No need to fear fire:
it eats the heart to hollow the drum.
No need to fear fire:
it eats the center to empty the cup.
No need to fear fire:
it eats the heart to hollow the bell.
No need to fear fire:
it eats the center to empty the heart hollow.
Fire made the boat for far
voyage to the note of the drum
voyage to the note of the bell
voyage with the empty cup
to fill.

2. Elegance

Elegance of Manhattan, the lost island.

Elegance of neon through green glass.

Elegance of children riding the subway
braced hand in hand with the rocket and racket.

Elegance of the green vine snaking
along the gold anklet and instep
among yellowing Sunday papers.

Elegance of the first dance, her Indian
eyes and citron tongue,
and the night of her hair my starred fingers burned in.

Elegance of her arch and lean,
bend of her citron breast to my palm.

Elegance of the switchable saxophone
filigreeing the lacy smoke over
coconut wine glass splintering the piano’s
plink. Eating up salt peanuts, salt peanuts.

Elegance of the banjo: brass,
mahogany, rosewood, ivory,
mother-of-pearl, the perfect lie
against hand and belly, the perfect line
of the black and brass neck,
the perfect moon mask. To make the music,
the sharp pulse: skin and steel.

Republished from Turn Off or Use Opener, Dog Ear Publishing, 2007 with permission from the author’s wife, Diane Kresh.


Léon-Gontran Damas (March 28, 1912 – January 22, 1978) was the author of seven books of poems, and four books of prose, all written in his native French. He co-founded the Négritude movement in the 1930s, and was a senior advisor to UNESCO. Damas moved to DC in 1970, and taught as a visiting professor at Georgetown University and Federal City College (a forerunner to UDC), before taking a permanent position as Distinguished Professor of African Literature at Howard University. Myra Sklarew wrote a tribute, published in Beltway Poetry in Summer 2008.

David Kresh (1940 – September 26, 2006) was a reference specialist at the Library of Congress, where he worked for 38 years, until his retirement in 2004. From 1995 to 2006, he was Poet-in-Residence at the Capitol Hill Day School. Kresh is the author of three books of poems, one of them posthumously published: Turn Off or Use Opener (2007), Bloody Joy: Love Poems (1981), and Sketches After Pete’s Beer (1986).