Omni–Albert Murray

By Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962 Elizabeth Alexander
                   ”Obviously there is much to be said for the
                   conscious cultivation and extension of taste, but
                   there is also something to be said for the
                   functional reaction to artistic design (and
                   honeysuckles) as normal elements of human
                                                      —Albert Murray

(three four)       The ancestors are humming: Write a poem, girl.
Turn the volume up, they say. Loud-talking. Talking loud.
On piano someone plays a boogie-woogie run:
Omni—Albert Murray          Omni Omni          Albert Murray.

In my mind and in his I think a painting is a poem.
A tambourine’s a hip shake and train whistle a guitar.
Trains run North/South home their whistles howling
            Afro . . . . Am.
Black and blue       Blue      Afro-blue blue-black and blue blew

I can picture Bearden with his magazines and scissors.
I can see guitar shapes, curves like watermelon rinds.
Will I find names like Trueblood and the shapes for my collage?
Omni—Albert Murray          Omni Omni          Albert Murray.

                        “So much goes on in a Harlem airshaft. You
                        hear fights, you smell dinner, you hear people
                        making love. . . . You see your neighbor’s
                        laundry. You hear the janitor’s dogs. . . . One
                        guy is cooking dried fish and rice and another
                        guy’s got a great big turkey. . . . Jitterbugs are
                        jumping up and down always over you, never
                        below you.”
                                                            —Duke Ellington

I might have jitterbugged at the Renaissance ‘room,
thrown upside down by some zoot-suited don
in a vicuna coat, smell of Barbasol—
I might have been a barfly with her wig turned ‘round.

I conjure smoke-blue clubs from family tales,
names, like “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear from Me.”
Duke’s square-toed leather shoes, his droop-lid eyes,
his—This is a black and tan fantasy.

Not shoes, not conjure, shaving cream, cologne.
“Tootie for Cootie” unafraid of rhyme.
Bold music, bold as sunflowers. Rhyme is real.
Blow smoke rings when you say “Mood Indigo.”


Albert Murray do they call you Al
or Bert or Murray or “Tuskeegee Boy”?
Who are the Omni-ones who help me feel?
I’m born after so much. Nostalgia hurts.


                   (after the tune, played by Monty Alexander on
                   piano and Othello Molyneaux on steel drum)

Red hair in summertime,
ashy toes, dust-knuckled,
the slim curve of autumn
in sight. In summertime
rhiney, shedding burnt skin,
petticoats, pantaloons.
I’m a rusty-butt sun-
baby, summer is gone.

No more corn and no blue-
berries. Sweet tomatoes
overripe. No more ice
blocks with tamarindo,
sweaty love in damp white
sheets, sunflowers, poppies,
salt in summertime,
sun-stoked bones. Summer jones.

Starlight cools as the edge
of fall. “Stella by Star-
light” steals stars for letters.
Each l and each t pricks
the sky like a star or
a steel drum quiver on
a note ‘til it shimmer.
Who is Stella? Summer’s


                      ”Regardless of how good you might be at
                      whatever else you did, you also had to get with
                      the music.”
                                                               —Romare Bearden

Paper-cutting rhythm, snips of blue foil
falling onto water-colored paper,
colored people into place. Eye divines
arrangement, hands slide shifting paper shapes.
Panes of color learned from stained-glass windows,
pauses      spacing       rests      from Fatha Hines.

Odysseus is blue. He can’t get home.
In Bearden’s planes: collage on board, shellac.
Watch Dorothy, children, enter Oz.
Look, Daddy, color! No more white and black.
This is the year of the color TV.
Odysseus is blue and now is black.

New York City at Christmastime. Christmas
tree—shapes like Bearden in a Bearden blue.
Tin stars falling on a yellow paper
trumpet. Blue sucked in, blues blown back out.
Black folks on ice skates shine like Christmas trees.
New York glitters like a new idea.


Omni: having unrestricted, universal range.
Coda: a concluding passage, well-proportioned clause.
On piano someone plays a boogie-woogie run:
Omni—Albert Murray       Omni         Omni         Albert Murray.

Elizabeth Alexander, “Omni-Albert Murray”  Copyright © 1990 by the Rectors and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota,

Source: The Venus Hottentot (Graywolf Press, 2004)

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Poet Elizabeth Alexander b. 1962

Subjects Music, Arts & Sciences

 Elizabeth  Alexander


Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. She is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the inaugural Frederick Iseman . . .

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SUBJECT Music, Arts & Sciences

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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