Tuesday Apr 23

BraggsEarlScreditLeshaPatterson Earl Sherman Braggs is a Battle/UC Foundation Professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Hat Dancer Blue (winner of the Anhinga Poetry Prize) and  In Which Language Do I Keep Silent: New and Selected Poems. In 1995 he won the Jack Kerouac Literary Prize for a chapter in his yet-to-be published novel, Looking for Jack Kerouac. Younger Than Neil is his latest collection of poetry.


Girl sitting alone in a black jazz box theater,
two complete stories above without endings, end
in this place graced by the sad jazz of Star Luck’s
Coffee house and Café on a street without
a name, in a neighborhood that has forgotten
to be ashamed of its own cracked-up sidewalks
and white trash reasons, broken blue beer
bottles now empty of any promise at all. Allyson
is the name assigned to this whiter than white
white girl who wears the mistake of black dye
in her  platinum blonde hair. She doesn’t care
to look into her own black-eye lined eyes, but
tonight she is looking through john Lennon glasses
at me. Me, I am listening to the Rolling Stones
rolling out a radio talk- show of rock ‘n roll
in a bowl of red beans and rice and jazz, so nice tonight
in this Sad Ballad Cafe afraid to face the reason
the morning sun does not want to shine brightly
upon either of us, unwanted cornfield children,
forgotten because we forgot that color matters in
South Carolina during the height of hurricane season.
A storm named Earl is on his way. We both refuse
to evacuate tables of impending high wind, rain. Love
is love and no matter how you shape it, it is still
going to be full of bullet holes. Broken hearts bleed.
No need to turn back or down the silk sheets
of an unmade bed. Love is the only thing that can die
and not be dead. Allyson is reading, slowly the palm trees
of my hand. My fingers are pointing at her breasts
of reasons for pointing out the inconsistencies of
tracking the projected movement of weather patterns
that come calling out the names, scribbled, put away
and forgotten only to be,  years later, re-forgotten again.
In rain and wind driven, stormy times like these,
the scenario does not want the movie makers to know
black and white photography is way more beautiful
than any coded color coded colorful situational drama.
Cornfield life is real. Cornfield music is jazz.
And Allyson and me, as we make our unsteady way
to the exit of this song, she is reading, breathing softly
the spaces between my words and I’m listening to lips,
painted red rush hour red. Broken hearts bleed.
Where are my keys, what day is today? Where does
forever come from and where does forever go when
it disappears? I do not know is always incomplete,
the answer to standard sized questions of impending
weather patterns defined  by the wet noise of wet wind
and rain, that would explain if it could, pelts from above.
Love is the only thing that can die and not be dead.

No, time was not Neal’s father, Neal had no father.
Time was his mother and this time he promised
to stop, but time-clocks never stop counting, ticking
time away in Greyhound bus stations, so time
tellers and ticket takers punch holes through
destinations. Restless youths, going anywhere.
Time does not care about time.
Any clock on any wall of any young life
is a clock on the wall of being forever young
just like Bob Dylan said. So when time
marched into the bus station this time, it
marched out just as suddenly
as the highest flight of any bird like Neal,
weaving, zooming in and out of predicaments of
time honored circumstance, a black bird
boy living in the neighborhoods of black
hooded life. There is a reason times flies
from Eastern Standard to Central Standard
and beyond the time zones of Neal’s life
have forgotten to say grace too many times
before sitting  upon the hard bench seats of
bus station jazz, eating vending machine
soda crackers while time forces a can of coke
to keep the change every time. Neal is broke
again this time, at the same time
a pocket full of nothing but hard bad luck
and time on his hands. Busted blue bus station
grey is time travel moments of madness turning
into gladness over time if waiting rooms decide
to really wait. Neal knows time can not be
put into a frame on a bookshelf, a picture,
his mother, crying because she doesn’t believe
in Neal Thomas’ God.
She doesn’t believe time has whatever it takes
to make wrong things right. In Jersey City,
there is no such thing as daylight saving time
in a bottle of vodka.
Time doesn’t have the time to forget
and she doesn’t forgive her son, Neal
for the train wailing holler of a distant midnight
freight, coming around the mountain when she
comes, one headlight, shimmering in the absence
of thin, fractured, everyday love. Nothing
and nobody ever loved Neal
except a needle in a haystack, city stacked
on top of  other crying cities
like yellow gypsy cabs and casinos. Showtime
always cast showy shadows in Jersey City and
bedtime is a box for  packing things lost, not things found.
Time of day never cared much for this time
of night in a city like this.  Neal’s mother
has always mailed her letters with U.S. food stamps.
“As long as they got to where they suppose to went,”
she always says.
Over due bill collectors, time tables and time keeper
are just that, collectors,
tables and keepers, keeping the true sad jazz
of water
from choosing the perfect choice.
Neal never loved nobody either.
Time and space are enemies,
no synchronicity in the state of New Jersey
according to a jury of thirteen
count room judges, judging the distance
light travels
in a place where there are no
straight lines and city streets
so easily forget to pave the wicked sidewalks
of poor boy poverty. Time
and time again, the dull deep cut
of butter knife life has forced Neil
to realize it takes a lot more than time
to actually kill time.

photo credit: Lesha Patterson