Bill Cushing’s poem for Miles Davis has to go at the end because it is so long, but perhaps it holds the key to a theme of dedication to ones dreams and ideals. Sometimes a dream is something simple and rare, as in Nat Hall’s poem, sometimes it leads to convolutions of family expectations and relationships. Will it be dead by the time you get there, like the star in Douglas Thompson’s poem?
And then things can go terribly wrong. Not much worse than they did for the pilot carrying Enola Gay to Japan in August 1945, and for those behind him who pushed science and aviation to their limits without properly facing the human devastation involved. In a week that has provided both comedy and tragedy on and beyond our news screens, we will take on board Emma Lee’s serious poem of that event we hope never to see repeated. And the similarly tragic end to a dream of someone who had taken risks to escape one terror and lost to another, in the poem by Gabriel Griffin.
It’s hard to see how we can possess our chosen dreams without understanding the failed ones. After the other poems whose subjects range from delight to tragedy and horror, I hope you will be able to enjoy the Miles Davis, um, improvisation at the end of the page.
Bringing you Keep Poems Alive generally weekly, I’ve made it for Sunday teatime after a busy week. Thanks to all the poets. Look them up and see what else they have done.
don’t hold your tears.
It’s in your eyes that big blue dream,
like suspended on each ripple—
holding hostage that small lighthouse,
a safe haven west on our side
where the sun slides
through silk & salt.
I taste the sea.
We moor our souls on that lone beach,
walk through tall grass,
those fields of jade—
me next to you,
sit on the edge of a headland
watching the world,
into the mist of that moment.
We share the food of our own thoughts,
a glass of love, sweet slice of life,
we seek treasures in-between stones …
For all I know, the watermark of all your smiles
printed onto the horizon.
It’s in our eyes that big blue dream,
I still feel it back on mainland—
it tastes like salt there
on my lips.
For all you know,
I’m still drinking the Atlantic
like a long shot of
First published in The New Shetlander, 2006, and
From Shore to Shoormal; un rivage à l’autre, BJP, 2012
On clear winter nights my father
would take me walks around the town
and point out all the stars to me
naming them old friends which
had guided him across the world’s seas
pursuing Hitler’s U-boats
and brought him home to this:
the surrender of marriage
the defeat of children as he saw it.
He thought himself a failure somehow
measured against some vast never-quite- defined
scheme of greatness, to be a writer or an architect.
And here am I both now. The irony is not lost
on I who have no children. But there was he
with four, valuing none of them. Yet am I being fair?
There were the walks, the talks, the dreams.
I was a poor underage substitute no doubt
for the intellectual audience he craved
but all too soon became the only one he had
and then to my shame: even I stopped listening.
Left him to lonely meetings with himself
In urban coffee shops, writing me letters.
It’s like the stars I suppose, just as he explained it:
setting out to reach one, you’ll find it dead most likely
by the time you get there. We all miss
each other, and the point of everything.
And all we have is light, these mirages of memories
veils of doubt and gravity that tug at us with their love
as we slip beyond each other’s orbits.
But when I look up and see The Plough
I remember him, the way to find the North Star
and make my way home.
(first published in Ambit Issue 213, summer 2013)
6 August 1945
- Paul Warfield Tibbets, pilot Enola Gay
If this bomb could be carried in an airplane, I could do the job.
Aged twelve I distributed Babe Ruth candy bars in a biplane,
ears ringing with the weird music of piano wire
on the wings, the wind like a lover’s breath.
Mom backed me. So I named the B-29 Enola Gay for her.
On the forty-first anniversary of the Wright brothers’ flight,
we began training. Our target was a bridge.
You can’t see people from six miles up.
We returned as a bright purple cloud boiled
upwards above an ugly mass of black smoke
that resembled a pot of bubbling hot tar.
We could only hope civilians were in bomb shelters.
A sudden shout, “I hear a B-29!”
No time to get to a shelter so I dropped to the ground.
Morning became night, my skin shreds.
Burnt numb, surrounded by boiling clouds,
I couldn’t get up. I was at the cusp of adulthood
knowing I’d lost the life I’d planned.
I had stared death in the face
and witnessed the birth of my second life.
Heat: needed water. I stumbled to the river.
People were dead or zombified by shock.
It took ten operations to straighten my fingers.
Hours of movement to stop scars stiffening permanently.
Forty-three years on, I suffered breast cancer.
My wounds still scalded by hate.
If we had had the bomb, we’d have used it.
I learnt the enemy was not America, but war.
I am a hibakusha,
First Published in The Screech Owl (2012)
Lament for an illegal immigrant
No moon, but fishermen
are used to that and the sea’s chanting,
the descant of the nets. The decks silvered
with sea verses, the minims
and trebles of fish hushed
into songbooks of ice.
Something didn’t sing, humped
in the net, thudding onto the deck.
Its ears heard no notes, its eyes
were blind to the men standing there,
its throat choked with words
that no-one would hear.
They let the sly octopus
sidle to the ship’s side, forgot to stop
the herrings’ arch and leap.
The sea moaned, the fish
slipped out of tune, the kittiwakes
hurled screeches like broken strings.
The men unfroze, thumped
what didn’t sing, what was lost for words,
over the hissing deck. Tipped what had
no hope, had never had a hope,
back to the sea. No word spoken, no
hymn, no prayer.
But the wrack in the nets wept. The sea
beat its fists on the boat. And the wind got up
and howled till dawn.
“Music isn’t about standing still and being safe.”
— Miles Davis (1926 – 1991)
two weeks after you died
a quarter-million thronged
by the St. Johns River
to hear the music you had spawned
hoping to see you
even in death
you never looked back
they were all there
my favorite Freddie Freeloader
were a beacon
a flagship for messages
of the heart
back to the crowd unbowed
that proud dance-walk
announced by muted horn
through all the bull
and told us about a place
ahead of everyone else
you spent a lifetime
thinking for yourself
speaking to every generation
playing it all:
I remember fourth grade
picking up a horn
then laying it down
rock and roll was my world
what did I know
seven years later I heard
it was in the Garden
where you brought me back
I walked all the way home
from that train station
my head pounding with sounds
frantic-fast as the subway
I spent the night on
those African rhythms
you used decades
before anyone else
even thought to
filling my head
letting me know
I’d have it all down cold
if I could walk
as cool as the notes you heard
you had that thing
that spark that was
a blue flame
off a gas stove
igniting everything everywhere
touching the genetic
Published in Stories of Music, vol 1, from Timbre Press (2015): Holly Tripp, editor