Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Writing the Blues
I've been a fan of the blues, the musical genre for years. But there's a lot I don't know about the it, as I found out when I took a quick peek online in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blues. That hasn't stopped me from writing a series of poems I've labeled blues. They're rhymed, rhythmic, and, well, see for yourself.
The first one I'm sharing is called Street Corner Blues. I'm a native New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan. When I was in my 20s, the first apartment I rented without a roommate was on third avenue south of Fourteenth street, just above the East Village. Hookers, prostitutes, junkies, and drug dealers hung out on the corner. Local law enforcement had their hands full, and often, as far as I could tell, looked the other way.
One day last summer I was in down town Osterville, a very upscale town on Cape Cod, when I spied a couple of young men, underwear clearly visible above their low hanging pants, hanging around on a corner, and I flashed on the story in this poem. Who knows what the pair were actually doing – probably nothing more sinister than waiting for their mother to finish her shopping.
Street Corner Blues
Waiting on cracked sidewalk,
want to cadge a ride,
my ears catch rough, tough talk,
full of macho pride.
Two, three brothers talking.
One guy pulls his gun.
I start out slowly walking,
turn around, then run.
Hear three shots behind me,
next a sudden scream.
I’m done for if they find me,
knowing everything I seen.
Sitting on my sofa,
someone’s at my door,
pounding, kicks it open.
Don’t remember nothing more.
Cops come by to see me
in my hospital bed.
say, “Talk, man, or he goes free.”
But if I do, I’m dead.
Don’t remember nothing,
ain’t seen nobody fight.
I ain’t heard no gunshots
ringing through dark night.
This next poem has at its heart a true incident. I used to study ballet, and continued into my 20's. One night in class, I stepped wrong when making a pique turn, and twisted my knee. Not realizing how bad it was, I took the subway home, and by the time I hobbled up the subway stairs onto 14th street, I could barely walk. One of the many junkies hanging out offered to help me home. This man made polite conversation about the merits of Tae Kwan Do, and what he thought of Chuck Norris (a good friend was a martial arts devotee) all the way back to my apartment building. I have never forgotten this stranger's kindness to me.
The Help Me, Someone, Blues
I slip, slide on a banana,
a sudden fall. I twist my knee,
grab the lamp post, pull to standing,
no one spares a glance at me.
Not one single person's stopping,
but, hey, it's New York City.
I'm calling out the help me, someone, blues.
My knee's twisted, my knee's throbbing,
and I'm in a lot of pain.
I don't know what is going on
but something's wrong, it's plain.
I pick up the darn banana,
and I toss it down the drain.
I'm still hoping for the help me, someone, blues.
I take a few steps, slowly
limp and stumble down the street.
My whole left leg is ballooning.
I sit down on the concrete.
No way I can stagger home.
I must admit defeat.
I'm yelling out the help me, someone, blues.
I spot someone approaching,
had a bit too much to drink.
From five feet away the liquor
oozes off him. What a stink.
He comes right over to me,
says, "You need a hand, I think.
You're calling out the help me, someone, blues."
He loops my arm around his shoulder,
walks me right up to my door.
Murmurs, "Maam, it's been my pleasure,
not in any way a chore."
His head's stuck in a bottle,
but he was my savior,
the answer to the help me, someone, blues.
And here's one final poem, inspired by a quick dash down the stairs to the T in Boston one rainy night.
A Token for the Train
I clatter down the stairway,
buy a token for the train,
have no special destination,
seeking shelter from the rain.
Then I'm standing on the platform,
wondering why I'm here again.
In the station, sudden darkness,
hear the rattle of the train.
People screaming on the platform
echoes, drumming in my brain.
We can't see where we're going,
I turn round and round again.
I wonder why this havoc's happening,
wonder how we're getting out.
We're stumbling, bumbling in this darkness
turning, churning round about.
Someone's fallen on the train tracks,
all around folks scream and shout.
There's a whistle in the tunnel
and the clacking of the train,
then the screech and scream of metal
that's protesting from its pain,
squeals and squeaks of brakes engaging
as they work to stop the train.
I hear footsteps running over,
someone's jumping to the track,
followed by their grunts and groaning
as they pull the jumper back,
feel some thumping on platform.
My head's spinning, things go black.
Someone helps me back to standing
as the lights are coming on,
train doors close, it leaves the station.
Now the crowds of folks have gone.
I figure I'd be better walking
after all that has gone wrong.
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