Poetry / David Kirby
:: The Locomotion ::
Student’s so tired she’s weepy. I just got off a double shift, she says, and I tell her not to worry, that we’ve all had terrible jobs but things turn out okay, and then I tell her about my worst job ever, which was building roads in Claiborne Parish that summer, the sun itself hot enough, the tar puddling around our boots like lava leaked from Dante’s hell. Jules LeBlanc and I bunked together and drove back to Baton Rouge on the weekends to do laundry and eat our mothers’ cooking, but on our last day before we went off to college, we stopped at a roadhouse and emptied can after can of Busch beer, the white mountains of the logo holding out their snowy promise. Somehow we made our way down Essen Lane, and when we stopped at the first light and Little Eva’s “Locomotion” came on, Jules cranked the volume knob, whipped his hard hat into the woods, stepped to the car behind us, dragged out the driver and his wife, and said, Okay, dance. Pope Leo X said, “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” I felt the same way about rock ‘n’ roll. It gave me somebodiness, to use Dr. King’s word. As the song spooled out into the night, we shook and shimmied, the oldtimers and the two young idiots, and then I looked over my shoulder and said, Jules, your truck’s rolling, and we took off down Essen, but just before Jules jumped through his door and I through mine, I turned to check on the old folks. Were they okay? asks my student. The light hadn’t changed, I say. His arm was around her waist, his other hand was in hers. They were still dancing.
:: Tell Your Story ::
As you walk by the river with your friend and tell stories, at some point you say, “I told that one before, didn’t I?” and your friend says, “You did, but I like that story, and besides, you never tell it the same way twice.” So tell your story. Sonny Rollins had an apartment on Grand Street near the river but was reluctant to play his saxophone there because he didn’t want to bother his neighbors, so he started practicing on the Williamsburg Bridge, where he could play as loud as he wanted, 15 and 16 hours a day, all year round. He was joined sometimes by other saxophonists, by Steve Lacy and Jackie McLean, and they’d imitate what they heard and try to play it back louder. Lacy recalls, “On the bridge there was this din, a really high level of sound from boats and cars and subways and helicopters and airplanes. Sonny played into it. I couldn’t hear myself but I could hear Sonny.” Zola said if you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud. So tell your story. Tell it on this steel-blue day, send it out on the glad air that floats over the murderous masculine sea. Tell it well, and this winsome sky will stroke and caress you, this stepmother world throw affectionate arms around your neck, as if over one she can yet save and bless. Jackie McLean says, “I’ve seen Sonny blow some of those tugboat flats and sharps and have the tugboat answer him.” Tell your story, then, and await the world’s reply.
From the writer
:: Account ::
I don’t live for poetry, but I sure try to live through poetry. Every day you notice something small: a neighbor’s cat hunting in your back yard, somebody wrapping a package, the mean old man across the street yelling at kids. What else is there, though? What’s the beauty in what you see, what’s the fun, the deep emotion? Sometimes I know I annoy beginning poets when I say that, to me, a poem is a little problem-solving machine, because they want their poems to express a cosmic grandeur. But I don’t mean that poems solve problems in a logical way. More experienced writers know I mean that when you write a poem, you tackle an idea that hasn’t quite found a comfortable resting place in your heart, so you work your material around until it does. Poetry’s the best tool to unpack the trivia of daily life and expose it in all of its closeted grandeur.
David Kirby’s collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Continuum, 2009), which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please (LSU Press, 2016).