These three poems by Phillip Shabazz explore memory haunted by national tragedy and the personal consequences of human acts in search of tenderness and regeneration. They consider the dance of youth, the chilling clash of cultural identity, and the significance of listening, in a world of imperfect memories, bodies, and histories…
by: Phillip Shabazz
For the Moonflower
And shall not loveliness be loved forever. ~ Euripides
The Tiki torches seethe and sink
like fumes around a Confederate monument.
I turn away from the pole-mounted lamps.
Hold the heat. My eyes widen blink by blink
to put out the night fires in Charlottesville.
A Nazi flag screams in the park.
Smoke loiters nicotine pale
before a coffee cream dawn. Slashed rain
clears the coastal grape air of August.
A cross burning remains the cross
I link to this history.
I stand inflamed by it.
Parallel to night fire heat is tear gas.
Riot cops blast its canister at my feet.
The raid stabs chemical into my skin,
lungs, mouth. Its minutia trembles in my bruises
and scars. The blistering fire has a fog-face,
a blood spilling edge.
When I see the seabirds of Atlantic watersheds
as home, I look to the hills unscorched
by little Hitlers. What’s left of the blistering fires
I dump in the trash. Wash off the soot.
This water cleanse ripples
with the moonflower.
She never salutes arm raised, palm open, hand down,
a German fuhrer of the Third Reich.
Even as scuffles break out stormed with shouts,
she shows peace, blooms velvety, easy-going.
Post-matinee, no telling how many
comers by starlight ride her lean lapel.
Wink at her melodic
but soundless iridescence.
I pull back my hands
from the wind scorched,
words scorched over burnt grass.
Silence the last snake on the ground.
I even mourn the brutalities of fire.
Drift and dwindle inside its walls.
The swastika night trickles into a manhole.
When gloom contains me, a caged moth,
the subway train, bus, and car motors
boom a cold manufactured opus in my ears.
Still she leaves in the dust of my DNA, little lights
able to spot the cross burning plots.
I stretch my legs on the bedrock without fire.
The moonflower spirals without smoke
up the trellis, heart-shaped foliage
unfolds her white windward sails
on the wide ship of night.
Listening to Langston
Today you will write about lights, he says.
I have pencils, notebook paper, a folder.
I trail the florescent light on his little hand as he
lifts a marker to write poetry notes across the board.
Fog light breaks without breaking the window.
Sunlight whispers from shrimp boat nets docked in marshes.
Southern yellow pines climb into nudeness, earthlight.
He says a rainbow touched his poems
during the Renaissance decades ago in Harlem.
I wonder. Such light could bring back a rebirth.
Take away the color line he found fixed at his feet.
This light remains still visible, long after the merchant marine
and river light days he walked along the shore.
Filaments burn out in his light bulbs, like memories.
Diffused light turns round on a turtle shell. Stars scatter.
Dusk releases day’s end into an indigo sky.
When light warms the room, we are its souls.
And when our shadows leave the body
to return in another light, we waken
from a heartbroken night in another room.
Revel that the streetlight isn’t a police shooting, a bomb threat,
a poorhouse, a drive-by. I, too, sing America, he says.
Sand lightens the town where gulls form colonies for defense.
Lamps shine at sea level. Waves land and go in lines
sapphire and salt. Its voice makes music on Langston’s voice:
Life is for the living. Death is for the dead.
I was born with a smile in the horse, hully gully, hustle
on the floor in a rent office. I wiggled a small space on the same
red rug as the fly, monkey, and hip-huggers who shing-a-ling
us to freedom. I juked jive in the jitterbug and funky chicken,
boogied downstairs in the boogaloo. Its ebonic sizzled chocolate
on the lip, teeth, cream soda, glass on a jukebox. I mirrored
the shotgun, jerk, funky Broadway against the brick. I turned
an electric-driven funk into finger pops to clear all doubt
in the high-flying heat wave, weed, black light posters. I partied
close to the wallflower, shimmied in the shadow, twist and mash
potato, Watusi quaint in the butterfly, tootsie roll, percolator.
I ate the thrill. Eye contact lit up my limbs, popping and locking
the DJ part of myself. I one and two the LPs spinning on turntables,
bopped the cha-cha slide, shuffled the cupid, wobbled
from philly freeze in living rooms to party animals
dressed in blue zoots lindy hopping across the Atlantic.
I whirled in the graphics flitting round my face, shifted my
feet in lemon light, did a break dance on the pen, anthem, work song.
I grooved the jig, cakewalked blessings from my mother tongue,
as I hip hopped the moonshine down my throat.
I laughed and sweat rock and roll, all this woe, want.
I did the robot, toe-stand, a freeze-frame pose.
Not into someone invisible, but visible doing music
from montage to moonwalk in the click of a deep kiss.
Poet, Writer, and Arts Educator, Phillip Shabazz is the author of three poetry collections, Freestyle and Visitation, XYZoom, and Flames in the Fire. He is also the author of a novel in verse, When the Grass Was Blue. His forthcoming collection of poetry is titled: Moonflower. His poetry has been included in the anthologies, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont: A Guidebook, and Home Is Where: African-American Poetry from the Carolinas. Some of the journals his poems have appeared in include The American Voice, Obsidian, and The Louisville Review.