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NOW IN SILENCE, MUTE (‘Where I Write #26′ at The Rumpus)


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Ernest Lawson: “Spring Night, Harlem River” (1913)


Where I Write #26: ‘Now In Silence, Mute’


Now in silence, mute, a place still quiet

within reason, ear-protected, I hear

the flow and pump of blood. My loud

and your soft heart beat out as dance

stun and shush us where equipoise


and noise don’t mix. Unsteadying, a diet

of uninvited cell phone monologues, big

overseer helicopters, TV screech and

media preachments, ambulance, paramedic

rescue shrieks, the way too-trafficked


hum and squall and scream of barriers

that mask the sound of handcuff clicks.

Anointing to me, annoying to some, silence –

soundtrack to our native zone – serenades.

As every trembling star and particle feeds


on space, so every song and utterance

leans against silence: a resource so

unheard of, we can’t help but kill it. Dead.

The silence of a smug, unthinking nation

– that’s something else again. Citizen


as pathogen. I write through those ears,

too, from silence breathed as nourishment

that charges and changes. Consider the kiss

in which we find and switch each other on

– the silence I write from recharges this.

©2014 by Al Young
This poem, commissioned by poet-editor Corrie Greathouse, debuted at the online journal in celebration of the author’s 75th birthday




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– Sarah Vaughan (singer), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Herbie Mann (flute), Paul Quinichette (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Jones (piano), Joe Benjamin (bass), Roy Haynes (drums) | 1954


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To animate the avatar of Al Young reading and singing with the Dartanyan Brown Trio, click here.
Dartanyan Brown, bass | Jorge Molina, piano | Sly Randolph, drums



after Yip Harburg & Vernon Duke

It was here in that one-time, one-step, lighted blue
of Paris at ease, close to the Cluny, in splendid,
straight-up noontime shadow that your slow and
measuring eyes met more than their burning match.

The smooth warmth of your whisper along my neck,
the nappy back of it, where you’d peeled back
its soft, excited collar to tell me everything you’d learned
or discerned in a city where love and prices flirt.

A product of standstill winters, sudden summers, sultry
prejudice, and heartland steak-and-whiskey afternoons,
you’d blown in from the States, an orphan of the arts —
Mary Cassatt
, Josephine Baker, Mary Lou Williams,

Jean Seberg. What breathlessness overtakes me here?
Brushing and combing out memories of your touch,
in a season as uncertain as coastal fog moving inland
from the loveless edges of that country we’d both fled,

I shiver. Whom could we run to if not one another?
Back home we knew what it was like to be the other —
displaced, despised, imprisonable. We watched and fought.
The colors of loss deepened. Yearning to break free,

unconsciously American, we counted our chickens, certain
that the ships we’d always banked on would sail in.
In Paris, our adopted country of each other’s arms,
whose borders blurred all time, all common market sense,

we saved the slow but steady squeeze of night, of time,
the way it smothered darkness, the way it mothered light.
The April of your frightened French was like that, too;
you had no words for holiday tables, for chestnuts in bloom.

Parisian light, like light at home — Detroit, Des Moines —
lit up your waifish eyes. I said, “Think twice before you speak.”
Over here you mostly knew the blues; rue rhymed with blue.
There couldn’t be too much light, too much touch.

Al Young
© 2001, 2006, 2008 by Al Young


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Joséphine Baker, James Baldwin, Charlie Parker, Sidney Bechêt


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Up Jumped Spring

for Nana

What’s most fantastical almost always goes
unrecorded and unsorted. Take spring.
Take today. Take dancing dreamlike; coffee
your night, creameries your dream factories.
Take walking as a dream, the dearest, sincerest
means of conveyance: a dance. Take leave
of the notion that this nation’s or any other’s earth
can still be the same earth our ancestors walked.
Chemistry strains to connect our hemispheres.
The right and left sidelines our brain forms
in the rain this new world braves—acid jazz.
The timeless taste her tongue leaves in your mouth,
stirred with unmeasured sugars, greens the day
the way sweet sunlight oxygenates, ignites
all nights, all daytimes, and you—this jumps.
Sheer voltage leaps, but nothing keeps or stays.
Sequence your afternoon as dance. Drink spring.
Holding her hard against you, picture the screenplay.
Take time to remember to get her spells together.
Up jumps the goddess gratified, and up jumped spring.

© 2006 and 2007 by Al Young




For JoAnne in Poland

JoAnne Ivory Gibson | KrakĂłw, Poland, circa 1965



You are not to trouble yourself

with your ladyness

your blackness


of having been brought up

on collard greens





Nor must you let the great haters

of our time

rattle in your heart


They are small potatoes

whose old cries

for blood

may be heard

any afternoon of the millennium

any portion

           of this

         schoolroom globe


Al Young

© 1969 and 1992 by Al Young
(from Heaven: Collected Poems, 1956-1990)

[Photo note: JoAnne Ivory, a Detroit Central High School girlfriend, married Donald B. Gibson, now an American literature scholar. In the mid-1960s, Gibson was awarded a postdoctoral Fulbright Fellowship to teach literature and English in Poland, where this lovely antique likeness of ‘Jody’ was snapped.]



LIVING IN THE DEEP WEST: In Memory of Wanda Coleman (1946-2013)


Wanda Coleman (1946-2013) in memoriam



 In memory of Wanda Coleman (1946-2013)

SoCal and what you called the Deep West keel

over without you and your defiant signifying.

You skipped right over absinthe, opium, mescaline,

LSD, heroin, orgy and weed to reach the Zone.

You wrote Days of Our Lives, you won an Emmy,

you slid into the Zone on slippery bars of soap

opera, all choruses, no breaks, just one long jes-grew

coda 20 volumes long. In code and flat-out truth,

you logged L.A. behavior hot to cold. In erosong

you sexified her landscape’s dips and swells, her

heavens, her hells. Anything but quiet or quaint,

your pictures in wall-painted language (sliced

between canyons and summits and ridges) stick

to the ribs and to the heart half-free or caged.

Concrete streets and freeways couldn’t always go

the distance or reach the intimacy you loved.

What was a Watts-born woman to do but learn

to boogaloo? Or sail the desert? Or walk the sea?

— Al Young
26 November 2013

© Al Young


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E. Ethelbert Miller: ‘Remembering Wanda Coleman’ | The Nation, November 25, 2013