A Quintet For Amiri Baraka


when a great poet/griot/spirit
passes on –
you can’t just go to bed
at the normal time,
as if nothing special happened,
as if the routine is the same,
the same old routine…

you gotta stay up late,
read his work out loud –
invoke his spirit,
let it come inside your house –
sip some scotch with it,
smoke some weed if you got some,
and take a pause,
and take a pause,
and take a pause…


A poem can be a crystal clear
mirror of our better selves,
a reflection of our innermost
joys and hopes and aspirations

but a poem can also be a sullen,
superficial shield, a phony
plastic surrogate, an average
representation of the real

poetry can sling itself fast speed
into a future we desire,
then reach back, find us,
and pull us grudgingly to it
but it can also probe nosily
into the present and the past,
and arrange things, events, secrets,
into their proper orbits


The same Spirit that haunts me, guides me –
same dude, although sometimes he shows up
in drag, wearing a wig, and lipstick –
talking ‘bout “Will you light my cigarette?”

This same Spirit appears infrequently,
but just often enough to remind me
that he is both my rudder and my anchor.
He often warns me about the Muse
and her sisters. “Those women are no good,”
he says, “all that flattery and inspiration.”
The same Spirit used to frighten me when
I was a young pup. We are old friends now,
able to dismiss one another’s excesses.
It is, how shall we say, a mutual appreciation?


a roof-top shot –
full moon over the city
the monument peeping at us
watching us with those beady eyes.
Won’t make it to New Ark today –
wasn’t in the stars –
bus and train schedules wouldn’t fit,
didn’t want to drive:
don’t like to drive long distances
these days, roads are not safe
for a man who looks like me.
But we have his books here,
poems, plays, short stories, essays,
plenty to read and ponder –
and we have all these obituaries –
a thousand plateaus to climb
to see a full moon rising
on an urban night.


What if poetry is speaking in tongues,
and tomorrow – the tomorrow of our dreams –
is really yesterday, or the day before?
And what if time dislocates itself
from time to time, like water,
always seeking its own level?

And what if we live and love inside
a closed box, where freedom and justice
are just optical illusions,
dream-like holograms of hope?

And what if poetry is speaking in tongues,
and homeless shelters and prisons
our true condition, an accurate depiction
of our feeble, temporal existence?