A. B. Spellman

Two Poems

After Vallejo

i will die in havana in a hurricane
it will be morning, i’ll be facing southwest
away from the gulf, away from the storm
away from home, looking to the virid hills
of matanzas where the orisha rise, lifted
by congueros in masks of iron, bongoseros
in masks of water, timbaleros in masks of fire
by all the clave that binds the rhythms of this world

i’ll be writing when i go, revising another
hopeful survey of my life. i will die of nothing
that i did but of all that i did not do
i promised myself a better self
than i could make & i will not forgive

you will be there, complaining
that i never saved you, that i left you
where you live, stranded
in your own green dream

when you come for me come singing
no dirge, but scat my eulogy in bebop
code. sing that i died among gods
but lived with no god & did not suffer
for it. find one true poem that i made
& sing it to my shade as it fades
into the wind. sing it presto, in 4/4 time
in the universal ghetto key of b flat

i will die in havana in rhythm. tumbao
montuno, guaguanco, dense strata
of rhythm pulsing me away
& the mother of waters
will say to the saint of crossroads
well, damn. he danced his way out after all

Living room of the Sterling A. Brown House. Photo by Margaret Corum.

Between The Night & Its Shadow

between the night & its shadow is the music
between the music & the night is the song
between the song & the music is the voice
between the voice & the music is the self
between the self & its song is the mind
between the mind & the song is the melody
between the song & its melody is the rhythm
between the rhythm & the melody is the mind
between the mind & its song is the word
between the word & the mind is the voice
between the voice & the word is the thought
between the thought & the voice is the self
between the word & the self is the shadow
between the shadow & the self is the light
between the light & the word is the music

(the song is the melody in the word in the rhythm
the self holds the mind to the word & the thought of the song
the voice in the song sings the self to the mind
the light lights the shadow of the voice & its melody
the rhythm moves the self through the dimming night’s song
the thought in the song is of night’s shadows without music)

A.B. Spellman is the author of two books of poems, Things I Must Have Known (Coffee House Press, 2008) and The Beautiful Days (The Poet's Press, 1965), and the nonfiction book Four Lives in the Bebop Business (Pantheon Books, 1966), later republished as Four Jazz Lives. He worked at the National Endowment for the Arts from 1975 to 2005. By the time he retired, he was Deputy Director of Programs, and the agency named one of its Jazz Masters awards in his honor. He has served on panels for the Rockefeller Foundation and ASCAP, and is on the Advisory Board of the Smithsonian Institution's African-American Museum. To read more by this author: A.B. Spellman: First Books