Wednesday Oct 18

YorkJakeAdam Jake Adam York is the author of three books of poems—Murder Ballads (2005), winner of the Elixir Prize in Poetry; A Murmuration of Starlings (2008), co-winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition and winner of the Colorado Book Award; and Persons Unknown (2010), published by Southern Illinois University Press as an editor’s selection in the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry.  His work has appeared in numerous literary journals including The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, New South, Ninth Letter, Shenandoah, The Northwest Review, and Poetry Daily. An associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, York co-edits Copper Nickel. In 2009, York was the University of Mississippi’s Summer Poet in Residence, and in 2011, he was the Richard Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College. He is a 2011-2012 Visiting Faculty Fellow at the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University.  He is also the author of a work of literary criticism, The Architecture of Address: The Monument and Public Speech in American Poetry, published by Routledge in 2005.  He is currently at work on a book of poems entitled Abide and a critical study of artistic responses to the Civil Rights Movement entitled Monument and Memento.
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‘Round Midnight

Thelonious Monk at The Five Spot, July 7, 1958


Glasses waiting to be taken back,

the sweat on the everyone’s

forehead, the piano’s lacquer,
 


the photos and album sleeves

tacked on every wall

ashen as fireworks’ afterward,
 


phosphorous fading as it falls

from the night

to the beach fires left for the tide
 

to rake out, threads of smoke

rising as if to make kites of the stars,
 

or the cloud over the stage,

catching the glow like a fingernail,

a cymbal, like the sax’s bell,
 
the light from the bar rinses everything,
 

even the bronze-coiled strings

of the piano that have been waiting

like the tendons of the hand
 

for a pulse to wake them

to translate light to sound

so when you play you’re playing light
 

and every surface hums, every

voice and conversation bent and blending in,
 

and the light from the bar

is what all these words that have been said
 

so many times no one thinks about them

any more than the straw of a cigarette,
 

the light from the bar is what

all these words look like or leave behind,
 

ash that might be blown back into a flame,
 

a feeling or an afterthought
 
that might be brought back

to the tongue to remember itself
 

into the sentence it wanted to be.
 

And it is always what you should have said

that brings you back

to this moment as if it hadn’t passed,


the way you choose a song

you’ve played so many times, a song

you’ve heard so many times
 

that even when you’re playing it

you might forget who you are
 

and almost become someone else,
 

feeling old hands in your own

and feeling your hands inside those

ghost hands inside your hands,

 
like feeling your wise tongue

inside the dumb tongue

your tongue remembers being,
 

hope inside embarrassment inside of breath

you couldn’t hold if you wanted
 

which is what lets you return

to the swelter of language no matter

how many times you’ve gone dim,
 


like the day you turned the page to see

the face of Emmett Till

swollen with river and all the words
 

you couldn’t say
 

the let the page fall back into the book,

into quiet, knowing

you could raise it again,
 

which is why you come back,

how you can return with all that memory

and crib what you should have said
 


to the photograph of yourself

as gently as the light
 


fluoresces on the glass to remind it

of the whiskey, the spirit
 

that’s left with someone else.
 
Somewhere behind you, you know,
 

if you turned, if you walked out

through the room,
 


is a glass still waiting on a table,
 


lipstick’s clef the husk of a word

you didn’t hear, and you know,
 

after you’ve gone

this light will keep its vigil,
 

holding its breath until
 

the filament breaks and the glass

gives back that air
 


of another afternoon, breathes it

on the back of the chair
 
or the piano’s lacquer

you can still see

though you are somewhere else,
 


though you are there.