Voice (29)

chicago-union-station-granger-28“Is the train station able to gaze at itself, revive the past, double it, a double as quiet as the face, the moving lips of my reflection within a mirror. Quiet as silences within the silences of Theolnious Monk’s piano. During the Twelfth Street Station’s heyday did people’s dreams truly float above the platform upon which I pcuture myself waiting for an Illinois Central train to arrive or depart, a platform lined with cardboard suitcases, ancient steamer trunks, duffel bags, shopping bags, string-tied bundles and cartons, colored gals carrying everything they own in a warm package they cradle in their arms, all of that dreaming and waiting, waiting, every shadow and echo and breath of those lives dust and grit and somebody brooms away each morning from the station’s concrete floor.”

— John Edgar Wideman from Writing to Save A Life: The Louis Till File

Voice (28)

toni1

“In the meantime the Bottom had collapsed. Everybody who had made money during the war moved as quickly as they could to the valley, and the white people were buying down river, cross river, stretching Medallion like two strings on the banks. Nobody colored lived much up in the Bottom any more. White people were building towers for televisions stations up there and there was a rumor about a golf course or something. Anyway, hill land was more valuable now, and those black people who had moved down right after the war in the fifties couldn’t afford to come back even if they wanted to. Except for the few blacks still huddled by the river bend, and some undemolished houses on Carpenter’s Road, only rich white folks were building homes in the hills. Just like that, they had changed their minds and instead of keeping the valley floor to themselves, now they wanted a hilltop house with a river view and a ring of elms. The black people,  for all their new look, seemed awfully anxious to get to the valley, or leave town, and and abandon the hills to whoever was interested. It was sad, because the Bottom had been a real place. These young ones kept talking about the community, but they left the hills to the poor, the old, the stubborn–and the rich white folks. Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones and less and less dropping by.” 

from Sula, by Toni Morrison

 

Voice (27)

kitchenettefront

“In the ‘Kitchenette’ area on South Parkway. Chicago, Illinois. April, 1941 — Edwin Rosskam

Kitchenette Building 

by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

“We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,

Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong

Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

 

But could a dream send up through onion fumes

Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes

And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,

Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

 

Even if we were willing to let it in,

Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,

Anticipate a message, let it begin?

 

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!

Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,

We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

 

 

Voice (26)

Image via this old man

Image via this old man

TOWARD NIGHTFALL
— by Charles Simic

The weight of tragic events
On everyone’s back,
Just as tragedy
In the proper Greek sense
Was thought impossible
To compose in our day.

There were scaffolds,
Makeshift stages,
Puny figurers on them,
Like small indistinct animals
Caught in the headlights
Crossing the road way ahead,

In the gray twilight
That went on hesitating
On the verge of a huge
Starless autumn night.
Once could’ve been in
The back of an open truck
Hunkering because of
The speed and chill.

One could’ve been walking
With a sidelong glance
At the many troubling shapes
The bare trees made–
Like those about to shriek,
But finding themselves unable
To utter a word now

One could have been in
One of these dying mill towns
Inside small dim grocery
When the news broke
One would’ve drawn near the radio
With the one many months pregnant
Who serves there at that hour

Was there a smell of
Spilled blood in the air,
Or was it that other,
much finer scent–of fear,
The fear of approaching death
One met on the empty street?

Monsters on the movie posters, too.
Prominently displayed.
Then, six factory girls,
Arm in arm, laughing
As if they’ve ben drinking.
At the very least, one
Could’ve been one of them.

The one with a mouth
Painted bright red,
Who feels out of sorts,
For no reason, very pale,
And so, excusing herself,
Vanishes where it says:
Rooms for Rent,
And immediately goes to bed,
Fully dressed, only

To lie with eyes open,
Trembling despite the covers.
It’s just a bad chill,
She keeps telling herself
Not having seen the papers
Which the landlord has the dog
Bring from the front porch.

The old man never learned
To read well, and so
Reads on in that half-whisper,
And in that half-light
Verging on the dark,
About that day’s tragedies
Which supposedly are not
Trageides in the absence of
Figures endowed with
Classic nobility of soul.

from Unending Blues
1986
#mightier
image via thisoldman

Voice (25)

cullen
Incident

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.

Voice (24)

LangstonHughes_on-stoop-In-Harlem“I am sorry if I am discouraging you with all my would-be good advice. But if you’re like me you’ll do as you want to do anyhow. I always do as I want, preferring to kill myself in my own way rather than die of boredom trying to live according to somebody else’s “good advice.” Besides adventure is two-thrids uncertainty. Had I been sure about Paris, I wouldn’t have been nearly as thrilled as I was when I came here with eight dollars, and wondered how Fortune would let me live. But I’m a ‘nut.’ You needn’t be one. It’s better to stay home.”

— Langston Hughes in a letter to Harold Jackman, May, 1924
from Selected Letters of Langston Hughes

Measuring Time

“A good part of any day in Los Angeles is spent driving, alone, through streets devoid of meaning to the driver, which is one reason the place exhilarates some people, and floods others with an amorphous unease. didion There is about these hours spent in transit a seductive unconnectedness. Conventional information is missing. context clues are missing. In Culver City as in Echo Park as in East Los Angeles, there are the same pastel bungalows. There are the same leggy poinsettia and the same trees of pink and yellow hibiscus. There are the same laundromats, body shops, strip shopping malls, the same travel agencies offering bargain fares….the signs of promise, on Beverly Boulevard as on Pico as on Alvarado and Soto. ¡No más baratá! …There is the sound that of the car radio, tuned in my case to KRLA, an AM station that identifies itself as ‘the heart and soul of rock and roll’ and is given to dislocating programing concepts, for example doing the tops hits of … 1962. Another day, another KRLA concept: “The day the Music Died”, an exact radio recreation of the day that in 1959 when the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed … such tranced hours are, for many people who live in Los Angeles, the dead center of being there . . . . ”

Joan Didion
from “Pacific Distances”

— Happy Birthday 80th Birthday, Joan Didion

Voice (23)

“Everything you didn’t understand
Made you what you are. Strangers
Whose eye you caught on the street
Studying you. Perhaps they were the all-seeing
Iluminati? They knew what you didn’t
And left you troubled like a strange dream.
Not even the light stayed the same.
Where did all that hard glare come from?
And the scent, as if mythical beings
Were being groomed and fed stalks of hay
On these roofs driving among the evening clouds.
You didn’t understand a thing!
You loved the crowds at the end of the day
That brought you so many mysteries.
There was always someone you were meant to meet
Who for some reason wasn’t waiting.
Or perhaps they were? But not here, friend.
You should have crossed the street
And followed that obviously demented woman
With the long streak of blood-red hair
Which the sky took up like a distant cry.”

“Evening Talk” by Charles Simic

Voice (22)

REQUIEM

So,
when the strong unholy high winds
whiplashed over the sold-off marshlands
eaten back to a sigh of saltwater,
the Crescent City was already shook down to her pilings,
her floating ribs, her spleen & backbone,
left trembling in her Old World facades
& postmodern lethargy, lost to waterlogged
memories & quitclaim deeds,
exposed for all eyes, damnable
gaze & lamentation—plumb line
& heartthrob, ballast & watertable—
already the last ghost song
of the Choctaw & the Chickasaw
was long gone, no more than a drunken curse
among the oak & sweet gum leaves, a tally
of broken treaties & absences echoing
cries of birds over the barrier islands
inherited by the remittance man, scalawag,
& King Cotton, & already the sky was falling in on itself,
calling like a cloud of seagulls
gone ravenous as the Gulf
reclaiming its ebb & flowchart
while the wind banged on shutters
& unhinged doors from their frames
& unshingled the low-ridged roofs
while the believers hummed
“Precious Lord” & “Deep River”
as the horse-hair plaster walls
galloped along with the surge,
already folklore began to rise up
from the buried lallygag & sluice
pulsing beneath the Big Easy
rolling between & through itself,
caught in some downward tug
& turn, like a world of love affairs
backed up in a stalled inlet,
a knelt-down army of cypress,
a testament to how men dreamt land
out of water, where bedrock
was only the heart’s bump
& grind, its deep, dark churn
& acceleration, blowzy down
to those unmoored timbers,
already nothing but water
mumbling as the great turbulent eye
lingered on a primordial question,
then turned—the gauzy genitalia of Bacchus
& Zulu left dangling from magnolias & raintrees,
already…

— BY YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA

remembering: nine years ago today, landfall

Voice (21)

“Later in his long life Grainier confused the chronology of the past and felt certain that the day he’d viewed the World’s Fattest Man — that evening — was the very same day he stood on Fourth Street in Troy Montana, twenty-six miles east of the bridge, and looked at a railway car carrying the strange young hillbilly entertainer Elvis Presley. Presley’s private train had stopped for some reason, maybe for repairs, here in this little town that didn’t even merit its own station. The famous youth had appeared in the window briefly and raised his hand in greeting, but Grainier had come out of the barbershop across the street too late to see this. He’d only had it told to him by the townspeople standing in the late dusk, strung along the street beside the deep bass of the idling diesel, speaking very low if speaking at all, staring into the mystery and grandeur of a boy so high and solitary.
Grainier had also once seen a wonder horse, and a wolf-boy, and he’d flown in the air in a biplane in 1927. He’d started his life story on a train ride he couldn’t remember, and ended up standing around outside a train with Elvis Presley in it.”

— Denis Johnson from Train Dreams

 

(photo credit: cindy johnson via the austin chronicle)