Two Poems

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).