Monday Apr 22

CramerStephen Stephen Cramer’s first book of poems, Shiva’s Drum, was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by University of Illinois Press. His second, Tongue & Groove, was also published by U of Illinois P. From the Hip, which follows the history of hip hop in a series of 56 sonnets, and A Little Thyme & A Pinch of Rhyme, a cookbook in haiku and sonnets, came out from Wind Ridge Press in 2014 and 2015. Bone Music, his most recent collection, was selected by Kimiko Hahn for the 2015 Louise Bogan Award and published in 2016 by Trio House Press. His work has appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, African American Review, The Yale Review, Harvard Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. An Assistant Poetry Editor at Green Mountains Review, he teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont and lives with his wife and daughter in Burlington.

In Bloom
The headlights arrowed into the gulf
&, as if four open windows                                       
could never be enough,
the doors were all spread-eagled
for my first encounter—collision
might be a better word—with Nirvana:
the volume hiked up to distortion,
the heat, absurdly, still
cranking through all vents,

the haze of exhaust blooming
red through the brake lights,
because the shredded
vocal cords & the snarl of guitars
demanded their own weather.
In the hilltop parking lot

our front tires stopped just short
of the pavement’s edge, & the planks
of headlights were strobed
by snow. School property,
but the night gave its cloaked
permission, & the music shot
through us like a dare, flooding
our chests with thrill
& risk. So we got running starts
& slammed our bodies onto the cheap
plastic, luging down the hill
toward the snow-mounded field. I forget

which of us first tried & failed
to surf. But it didn’t matter—                        
once I dipped out of that horizon

of headlights, all was shadow,
& I rocketed down that hill, streaking
the few stars. My stomach
plunged through the sled,
& the world shifted from light
to dark to light as I alternately faced
the streetlamps far above & the deep
blues of the woods. The next year
a classmate would be taken—

taken: that’s the word someone used,
as though he’d been lifted,
transported somewhere else—

after testing another slope.
Every town’s got that one blind
turn, that one absurdly steep
hill, & this was both. The blitz
of adrenaline, the buzz of risk,
made a classmate try to drown

the new summer’s monotony
in a motor’s mechanical yawp.
His motorcycle’s protracted snake
of a skid ended in a splay
of sparks, a truck’s undercarriage.
We graduated from high
school the same day as the funeral.
There we stood in our ridiculous
gowns, silence feasting on our insides…
Not a shred of silence, that snowy
night when our tracks turned pure
ice, & a goalpost came into focus
at the last second. Someone squinted
& held up their hand to the car’s
glaring lights & said enough,

let’s bail. A buzzkill, though our only
buzz was speed. But bail we did.
So I remember the rush, the sting
of kicked up ice, the world turned
to an indigo blur, I remember
the music’s rash abandon, its scowl,
that feel that something new
was happening, but most of all
I remember that hand held up

against all the damage & confusion
that would soon come. We all wiped
the snow from our bodies,
slammed the doors shut so that the car
became a box of sound, & we were all
inside that sound, amazed among springs
coiling through wasted leather,
& we turned toward our good
homes, our loving parents,
letting the music be the danger
we wanted to be, letting it continue
long after we had made ourselves stop.

The Muddy Tavern Blues

It doesn’t matter your selection.
In this joint, the jukebox turns greasy
silver into the slow eddy
of Mississippi mud, into blues riffs

known for making skirts
shorter, into gravel-throated

confessions that dismantle
the night & reassemble it

to the rhythm of their own
tide. Out back, the riverbed

is silvered with scales, a living
schist, a thrashing hoard of glitter
& blood. Wave after wave
of salmon, coiling

& uncoiling in the dark. Wave
after wave of this bass line

I know so well it disappears
like the taste of my own
tongue. Kiss my skin  
& tell me what you find,
because I don’t know what I am—    
skin is more than salt, more

than boundary, & I can only tell you
that the most basic
laws—gravity, motion—       
all turn untrue when you
loosen your scarf to a man
giving all his breath to drive

a moan through brass.

Solder: A Debate
—After a man in Zimbabwe transformed a machine gun into a saxophone.

If a garden has an opposite,                           
it’s this: hordes of sun-baked
firearms breaking through
the sand, the stalks of barrels 
leaning into the wind,                        
ammo sprinkled about
like golden seeds.              

Rejiggered, the gun’s barrel
can be pummeled
into the goose-neck curve      
of a saxophone’s peak.
Heaps & heaps of guns
are buried all over this desert,
the grim harvest of sixteen
years of civil war.      

The trigger & pistons
can be doctored into keys.

When gunfire dismantles
the flight of lilac-
breasted rollers scissoring
the dusk, we find the closest
basement & repeat whatever
prayers we can remember.     

I found the AK47
angling out of the earth
& disassembled it.
Then, like beating a sword
into a plowshare, I soldered it
back together until its hollow
was made for holding

You can’t fight the enemy
with a concert.

The shoulder stock can
be converted into the bell’s
tubular bloom. The magazine
can be hammered                               
into a mouthpiece.
Weapons help the enemy burn
partitions into the sand.

This twisted metal wants
to sing, & singing can cluster
even the most far-flung
This shifting sand is full
of partitions.

I lift the burning         
to my lips.