THE MOONLIGHT HITCHHIKER
I came to light at Rome, Georgia August 10, 1963 in a mint Cadillac
my mama’d sprung,
hot from the car lot, ’cause she said she knowed I’d grow up with
but breakneck fists and a roofless point of view to my name.
Shit yes, beside her friend Maxine, she ripped hell-bent past Del
of failed salesmen, out from that sinking dealership, and down
backroads by the dozen,
halfway through cricket-crazy Dixie––
till she spun into a ditch waving milkweed, and gave birth
pure and simple among the furry seeds.
Steaming like a catfish in the moonlight, I flopped around that flashy
and bawled for all the world, she said, like some god with a heart.
Same year Del was shot folding his socks at a filthy laundromat in
I got elected to dish out chicken and deep-fried clam sandwiches
over the counter––with shakers ranged like watchtowers––
before many a pipsqueak, white-haired genius into leather and contempt
for everybody outside his crowd of ghosts.
Oh, the Haight was black-and-blue heaven to any earthbound fool so hot
under his haircut, doped-up and desolate, that no way could he guess
his spark was going in a flash
to a lump like sooty slag––
what future we had all those days leapt right up our noses!
So help me weeping J.C., next thing I knew I was reborn about
two thousand years more dead than alive
when the world jerked to a stop ’round the middle of the night
and said to get me and my best threads off the damn bus.
Somehow the wind, rustling widely at random through wheat fields,
as a heaved breath, half from relief and half sharp regret for not a few
whack-witted gestures which––via decades and detours––had thrashed
my way to the turf
by this godforsaken crossroads motel.
With a headache in every direction and the high-flown moon that takes a
dim view of me
through mist adrift over from the bottom,
I stumbled to an off-stride halt.
But that’s how it goes––a whole life lost among clouds––then, oh Mama,
to this hard place, eating dirt right under my nosedive!
So after you made the bend, Mister, I flagged your old Caddy for just
one more ride like I still had somewheres on earth to go.
for Larry Moffi
c2016 by Jeff Grinnell
originally published in a slightly different form by The Evansville
AFTER THE STREETLIGHT CAME ON
“Mother, where did you go?” a boy complains.
“Your face . . . it fell when you rushed out my door.”
Motes of shadow cascade interior walls,
sweeping over his bed to the floor.
How could she leave? (Just then his ear had homed in
on steps diminishing down the hall.)
He braces to roll his bath-robed weight her way
but mounting shadows hold him still.
“So cool off my brow . . . with hands numbed by wind . . .
and tell what snow-forts near the woods,
got buried!” Bright flakes go whirling outside his sill
where backlit aloe and snake-plants loom.
“Mother, where are you? . . .” Behind glazed eyes, he crawls
through a blanket that thickens mote by mote.
And she turns to him, far-off, with wavering face
before the veils of snowfall close.
c2016 by Jeff Grinnell
THE WANDERINGS OF KEY MICAH
I sought out Jah; and the Spirit bid I to cast off those darkers,
IDs for states from pole to pole, sidearm and Panama hat, Christ writhing
on a cross of gold against me neck,
and genie-freeing rum in a flask—-
but smoke ever after the mystic mojo herb
yielded for service to prayerful travelers, empty-handed
while many rivers far
from palm doves in Zion, root and branch.
Who would shake news
stone irie as that?
Jah called I to twist my midnight high-gloss hair into ropy dreadlocks,
rip down the spell of sheer heaven on earth,
wove by seven screwfaces roundabout Babylon. Such
hard-driving masters pitch everywhere
lines spun off dark angles inside, and gestures aimed to say
plenty what any fool weep to catch.
Plenty more than a pushover bargain for, skidding to his knees in
made to order around, filaments that secure
hair-trigger judgments to standing top-notch.
Why then the lowest ground, overall, so close at hand?
And, from both sides out their mouths, the masters shoot fiery lizards
under every I-tal brotherman skin. Even so, I swear
those screwfaces been twisted
tighter by the day and their family airs
that raise devils wherever they spin.
But then, I swear, the masters unload—-as a rule down the bloodline—-
descended curses, polytricks, and worriments
onto shoulders of the worse off
caught dead tired in their tracks. Screwfaces, tumble from your
to this other, uprooted world!
Jah say to wrap I with some cape the shade like arctic nights around Harlem—
precinct of parties kicking
through stone-dead streets
eclipsed by buildings and the heavy toll at 3 a.m.
Freewheeling guzzlers drag fins along such narrows, hardware out rear
searching corners all over the deadbolted borough for problems to fix
in their cross-hairs. Who else would undertake
to defend them—-like fathers off the street?
Who else guard maybe the one torn-up way
open to their projects?
Backs flat against a wall ever since the crib, those iron repeaters
whack away now and then at bogeys—-
or Ebo, memorizing “Mother to Son” behind his front blinds, a few stoops off;
or whatever blinking sleepwalker that stumbles across their hail,
into his shadow and a red pool.
Again Jah bid I whip on the cape close to shades of raggamuffin
who lean, uneasy, from his couch, through lamplight
toward blooms under dripping plaster; and nudge friends for such bills
as many I can spare—
from fews-and-twos to maybe a quarter the sideboard stash—-
because he draw a slick card, marked from birth;
and dog-hungry hoodoo will not let go. Behind his skull
come a grip, seizing like pins-and-needles,
to drag him down slippery faces into some hollow or other grown
steeper with each pang, each shadow which cross above
and beyond his depths.
At last brought to halting mumbles, that straggler park like a wreck,
on wrung hands
till bluebirds say, Get moving.
The Spirit gave I to fit on a knit tam of gold, green, and crimson—
not far from the unsubdued colors
hailing Ras Tafari as Reared-up Lion from the Tribe of Judah—-
prayers to him Most-I Haile Selassie, star-crowned Majesty over Ethiopia—-
the home ground, once-womb for Africa (Mother to the World),
and now a thundering grave!
Jah say to take up Word from the Holy Piby, Seventh Book of Moses,
these crawling years buried or torched
by nightlong Ghoul-Armies of the Cross, who call I slave
and break I to power the Paradise Dynamo.
Even to this very day, those fireball works feed
on crushed Black come-alongs, like coal—-or so masters figure folks
out of step, luck, sorts, and view
under the company’s dime.
Who owns each grind, workhorse, desk jockey, whiz, every dust-eating drudge?
Who own the snow on rocks too steep to take, the calabash, hoptoad,
and shadows flitting in spirals
through deeps brought to light by noon?
And whose wind, that breathe shivery secrets ‘bout megabucks whirling up
to storm clouds,
before they burn helter-skelter over cities
gone to wrenched pieces at the thrill
of bombs whizzing down, thick as a rockslide,
on ground-zero huts?
Jah say to take the Word like a scourge of wind in me mouth, and charge
all along Babylon avenues
where masters stray this milky way and that with their well-bred wives
past shops exuding blingstones, or windows which roll out
show-hogging, heart-crossing frocks—-
ah, the master tricked up in a grave suit knit by worms! His hand on high
broadcast fishy lures
far as the boondoggle, touch-bottom digs of many folk;
and lift they bride and scamps—-no word Mabinty, little Toots, and Junior?
Meantime, that master be dropping backhanded slurs to grimaces in the hole
down to hell, just before
sore points riddle ‘most every daddy’s brain
with outlines of a blind alley, smack spike, and up-for-grabs gun.
Often as not, such designs
draw a whiskery blank looking far-off-—toward the boneyard?—-
till home turf get swallowed, block after block, by dusk moving in like a dragnet
or some nightmarish mamba open wide.
Now that screwface suit—-whose odd wrinkles been ironed flat no matter the
toward silver mint jingling
like bracelets and danglers on his fave—-
who be a curvy mirror to swim in, mirror that today can return
not even one straight view.
His mind it multiply fruitful untruth, wine of fine words and minute’s wisdom,
to smother mangelizing firebrand graves.
But in the end, at trumpet call for dawn,
his tongue will sink back to a broken flatland raked
by white-hot rays of Jah! Selah.
And so the Spirit gave Word to take up me crocus bag holding a few tatters
with banty feathers, the shark’s tooth, wing of rat-bat, and ackee fruit—-
wonders come across at times by remnant sistren,
and handed over charmed against walls still looming
beyond question or unguarded doubt.
Yeah, raise again the prayer stick carved from jaguar base to lion crest.
And legsus down a street
hit with light along walls of its towers that go on and on a honking stretch
in ranks and files; towers standing by at their high point,
for storms ganged up to lob supersonic, killer-volt jags
a mile or so out into the bay
lathering surges across boardwalks a drop-off below;
towers planted, like a posse lashed down, as they hold the hard-bitten line
against breakers wild to grind away under framework often enough
pinned together by half-baked nuts and bolts—-
iron gods, starbright idols of glass, marble Goliaths—-
what do they see with noses drawn so long
toward unearthly heights?
Sure as the pit, they do not look out for flyspecks like I and I down here.
But even the topranking got to sometimes brush by street mics,
and arteries revved through any driven workday
humming around a bronze bull at the square.
Yeah, raise that stick to pray down flashes before all us outsiders
who took wrong turns
in shadows pitched from such built-up stories. . . .
Soon come a day those towers will wallop, city by city,
masters headlong as showering rubble, stopped cold on the run
among their whip-smart workhorse juniors shook sideways
toward a fault rolling and rumbling plazas downtown
from the blindfolded lady to streetwise bloodstains;
masterminds stopped among juniors, who till then be making strides and
sparks, full circle
between streams of gas, ramshackle hives, fields dusted by skunk works—-
or even as twistedly far as mountainsides blown
to show rock-solid returns.
What will every last I say to Jah
‘bout our trails of ruin?
Now, after hooking rides north a few ages, I step back in beaded dreads, tam,
jumpsuit, and cape, too—-
at this corner beneath a whitish hilltop smudged every so often
with campfires chewed over by exiles
handing bird around those crackly pits.
What road in the wind for me boots tonight?
How long till an unsealed hour I got to make moves—-like the swiping raised
grip of Samson—
and rattle, with raps on target,
each master’s game-and-Jah-playing skull that tilt this way?
for Shelley and Don Etzel