Swing low swing low sweet sweet chariot.
Nothing but a plain black boy.
— Gwendolyn Brooks
Swing slick your silver scythe. Swing slow, decisive, your thick hammer.
Low swung & lying low, you drive boys down with your clicked hammer.
Swing by. We’ll sling sighs the size of freighters loaded down & sluggish, horns’
Low tone growing enlarged hearts. Then, to the taut muscles, a blue-sick hammer.
Sweet flow, stealth mode, blows the blood in vain. These flow, the little rivers,
Sweet & deep. Until, at fourteen or forty-nine, a dam drops — the final tick hammers.
Chariot wheeling free in fury. I fly, its charioteer, into the ravine of vengeance.
Nothing will escape my blade, not even me. & the sea collapses its reddening hammer.
But, a jury. But, peers. (Who, really, thinks of human beings with that word?) But, a judge,
Plain & pious to a law. If we want justice, we have to trust those quick hammers — hmmm —
Black robe. Black leather brief case. Briefs redacted black. Brief is the verdict; brief the sentence.
Boy, it’s final. Its gavel-smack, spinal. It is wooden & revered: the almighty, slick hammer.
I swing wild, plow the boy in the mirror, swing low blows for sweet & unsweet spots. I chariot
Nothing innocent, & I feed you a plain, blacked out body — Wesley, licked & hammered.
The Salt Craving
after Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker
How you utter a word
Changes its salt. Salt peanuts
Whispered, hummed, signals
Elegy. A raspy squeal
Turns them punch-
Line, strolling into a bar.
I hear the earthy notes in them
Roasting, hear them spread
Across my tongue, naked
& gnashed to pieces, to butter. & that sting —
Salt dissolves slick sidewalks,
Seasons just about everything,
Bites & bites back after every bite
Torturing the tongue. I scoop
Another handful because I need the lash
Of sound’s salt. I lash my mind
With the ingenuity we have
For salt & sound. Preserve
Flesh. Sterilize. Memorialize. Make the wound.
Pack the wound. Don’t you know
Torture is a salted imagination? Didn’t I
Horn you about punchlines? Didn’t
I line you up & suckerpunch you
With my horn? salt Peanuts!
salt Peanuts! Don’t you understand
Every trumpeted tone is a grain of blue
Salt squeezed out sideways, a grain
Of sound I’m dropping
On the tongue, because you want
Its sting that badly, over & again?
Wesley Rothman is the author of SUBWOOFER (New Issues, 2017). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, The Los Angeles Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Humanities Review, and The Golden Shovel Anthology. And his criticism is featured in Callaloo, Publishers Weekly, and Rain Taxi Review of Books. A Teaching Artist for the National Gallery of Art and recipient of a Vermont Studio Center fellowship, he lives in Washington, DC.