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Monday, June 26, 2017
"from 'The Last Bohemian of Avenue A'" by Yusef Komunyakaa
Here's the End of the World mobile with its shiny bullhorn & platitudes among drawings tattooed across the beige hood big as a mammoth broken out of ice, bellyful of buttercups. Doomsday has come & gone, & now the sluggish van rolls toward the snowy East River at a quarter past midnight, & I wonder how it is to quit a job one week earlier & return on blue Monday, begging the foreman for a chance to stoke the brimstone furnace.
Changes stumble into my life sometimes, like last Sunday when I sat at the dining table of an old friend of a thousand stories, a glare falling into my left eye, her daughter watching TV in a side room, & I heard this Foley guy sawing a maple cross with a horse-hair bow. I can't help but walk over & lean into the doorway, & then raise a phantom alto to my lips. The cat's young too, rocking his upright at the foot of Babel, speaking pain & joy in the most beautiful way I've heard in a long time, & say to myself, Rabbas, you could run the table with this guy at Small's, could teach the shadows to walk on their hands & dance with alley cats.
I've been here a long time working this hunk of brass, & knew Mingus in the days when he'd strike a righteous pose up on the bandstand & bring down the house, talking jive & rave, jabbing below the belt, where it hurts. Can you imagine him up there today, playing a new version of "Fables of Faubus," big as thunder at dawn rocking hundred-year-old hanging trees out of memory, can you dig?
The guy on the corner jingling coins in a Dixie cup pulls on his blind-man's shades as March runs down Delancey, woozy as a rush-up of sparrows over Chinatown. One small thing seems almost holy, & lightheaded hues settle over the architecture & a handkerchief dance unfolds into some jostle of bumper balls. This is the hour paradise is not only for itself, & one doesn't feel stupid picking up a dull penny from a sidewalk. A tremble goes through cloth, tugging bodies into a new world, & by ten-thirty the wind rolls on past the Hudson, headed upstate. I want to jump up & down, to shout as March ambushes the last antiheroes this scatterbrain side of town.
"This excerpt of 'The Last Bohemian of Avenue A' is from a book-length poem spoken by an avant-garde jazz musician who has lived on Manhattan's Lower East Side for decades. Everything he says about history, culture, and everyday life is tinged by his passion and imagination in service to the art of jazz. Playing the saxophone is perhaps what keeps Barabbas Jones's encyclopedic memory alive in a world of commodity and forgetting." —Yusef Komunyakaa
Yusef Komunyakaa is the author of The Emperor of Water Clocks (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). He teaches at New York University.
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