Bob Holman

Jazz a Jagged Dream
   for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Charlie Parker

Not so every often, as soli
Slide solid behind ah! Sunflower,
I’d put on my jazz sweater heading
For downer towner. Don’t listen
At your own risk, Bob would say,
Make my way subway catcherall
Clattersmack, the only virgin in the room,
Baby. Whereupon Thelonious’ finger splints
Split notes into facets, a fractured chord
Yields a harmonious flow, a moment
That’s wanting it to happen. I’d walk right
Back there, post-gig Village Vanguard 1969.
That’s when Dexter leaned over and laughed,
“My man. Always end at the beginning.”

Pandemic Shorties

Ask not for whom the siren wails
That’s you in there
                          (March, 2020)

Why get out of bed?
You just have to get back in again
                          (March, 2021)

It happens every 100 years.
Get used to it.
                          (March, 2021)

After a Hard Rain
    praise poem for Steve Cannon

he’s gone from the hillside
             that demands reparations

             he’s gone from the interchange
that never stops changing

he’s gone from the poem
             that will never be spoken

             he’s gone from the gathering
where all tribes are represented

he’s gone from the future
             that he was already living

             he’s gone from the emails
that delete before receiving

he’s hammering the verses
             on whalebone and cardboard

             he’s drifting in consciousness
where no one can find him

he’s hearing your words
             before you can speak them

             he’s making love in the sunshine
with sunshine brothers & sisters

he’s inventing new ways
            for the galleries to blast off

he can’t believe he has to repeat
             his slogans of simplicity

             he refuses to understand
your system of logic

he matches your bet and
            he raises your anti-

            he manifests his destiny
inside of a flower

he takes truth to the limits and
             leaves us there gasping

             he can’t stop the world so
the world closes around him

he ran off with his lover
             when no one was watching

             he climbed the tall mountains
and fished us from deep waters

he lifted up the wasted
             & wanted the wanted

             his victory will always be
us just sitting around

time is an anchor
             he just tossed overboard

             equality was his breath and
             he breathed it continuously

             there was something about him
             that we’ll never know

             he was that way in all ways
             and we always knew

             he never let on and
             we’ll never know

             his boots were leaking
             and his body was swaying

             they stopped his breath
             but his beat keeps on beating

             his life was the question
             that answered the answer

             his rigorous approach was
             masked in a carnival

             shut-up you dullards and
             give him the floor

             and give him the ceiling
             the windows and door

             and stay out of his way as
             he mows us all down

             and he keeps on walking as
             we all lie down

             and we kneel at his gravestone
             but don’t heed his demands

             he was asking of us to
             give the way he did

             now you must decide how
             your life you will live

             he had nothing to die for
             but he died for us anyway

            he had everything to live for
            but he gave it all away

            now that it’s over
            he says you begin

            now that he’s gone
            you welcome him in

            there’s no one like him
            so it must be him

            and the tribes are all gathering
            and we sit on the rim

            on the edge on the verge
            as we gather around him

            (the tribes are gathering
            and he belongs to them all)

            your communities need you and
            steve is beside you

            ride off in the sunset and
            and pull the night o’er you

            take off your blinders
            sing a new horizon

            there’s nothing more to say
            so now go ignore him

            and he keeps it going
            in the silence that follows

            he keeps it going
            in the silence that follows

 This Is What Democracy Looks Like
     Bring Back Bowery Project

Bleeker than Bleecker, barer than nada y nadie
A plywood desert out my window on The Bowery
A siren of silence, blind leading the blinder. Looters, cops ruder
Brutes, systemic collapse and a sick rose, slashed tire
Tiredness, buffeted by pandemic waves, Racism
Pulls nerves from our bodies using iron stupidity clips,
Fascism a-laying hot macadam on our wounds,
The “leadership” (HA!) is Tyranny…

                                                                And then the Artists got ahold of it.
                                                                 Sprung rhythm art garden splash
                                                                Walls blossom Black Lives Matter

Many’s the days and many’s the ways and many’s the time come before
As the dead and the dying and the violent lying
Wait COVIDly, patiently, next door
The Bowery resurrects — now there’s a next
See there’s a lot more to go than’s before
And the art that you see lifts infinity
As you stop dead in your footsteps and roar

Up the ladder with the brush and rush
Yes there’s hardly a clown in the sky
Scooter’s punched em in their plywood nose
So stop yr gab and chatter, spell out “Black Lives Matter”
The flowers beckon, a “Good Luck Spot” I reckon

                                                                    Emmet Till – Here Still
Dressed in colorful crack, a blessing for the homeless
Bowery Mission sidewalk is tattooed with poem’s shadow

No one shall utter the debt owed to Wonder
All together now: call out the name
That’s not anonymity’s face on the Wall of Grace
George Floyd is breathing again

More art than’s ever been seen before
It’s a gift, it’s capitalism’s grave
There’s no one to recall
Bounce back from the fall
Into summer heat’s saving grace

                                                      There is no Justice in America
                                                      But it is the fight for justice that sustains you

Baraka says, cross from his pad on Cooper Square
Where Hettie still lives, and the murals that give,
Sustain us on the street where we live

Individual power dies twice every hour
To be born down in utopic Foley Square
I saw you on your bike with your mask and your strike
And the placards that gleamed in the pools of your dream
O Artists! indefatigable rascals of love

The looters and shooters and dumb ass computers
Lie down in the middle of the street
But BLM keeps on marchin, it’s the Bowery’s fortune
And the past is the future again

Don’t tell us what to do
With the nail and the screw
With the paint and the roller
Bucket and rags in a stroller
Dance on the graves of the rich and enslave
Those who’d profit from sweat that’s not theirs

                                                     Lift your horn
                                                     Life your voice
                                                     It’s for you
                                                     Make the choice

It’s the people’s history
Free art on the Bowery
The Garden of Power
Contemplation’s Bower
Down on the Bowery —
Where Art knows how to Live

Original Slam Master and a director at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, creator of the world’s first spoken-word poetry record label, Mouth Almighty/Mercury, and founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, Bob Holman is the author of over 20 poetry collections (print/audio/video), including the recent India Journals, released in conjunction with the documentary Ginsberg’s Karma.  He is a co-founder of the Endangered Language Alliance and has collaborated on the award-winning PBS documentary film, Language Matters .  Other poetry films include The United States of Poetry (PBS) (International Public TV awardee), Khonsay, a poem in 35 languages (winner, Saddho Prize), and Poetry Spots (WNYC-TV).  He lives on the Bowery in New York City.

Back to issue no. ten poetry section table of contents

Read next: “Sorting the Piles,” short fiction by Lolita Hernandez

Founded in 2020, Three Fold is an independent quarterly based in Detroit that presents exploratory points of view on arts, culture, and society in addition to original works in various media, including visual art, literature, film and the performing arts. We solicit and commission contributions from artists, writers, and activists around the world. Three Fold is a publication of Trinosophes Projects, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.