Solo R&B Vocal Underground

By W. S. Di Piero b. 1945
It seems to head from its last stop too fast,
my transbay train’s strung-out hoo, deep
inside the tunnel, and starts to bleed
into the baritone wail of that guy
at platform’s end, a sort of lullaby
rubbed against the wall then caught in a squall
of wind darkening toward us, his whippy voice
skinning its tired song off the tiled dome:
he’s determined, the silky lyric says,
to be independently blue, while we all
wait to be chuted to car lot or home,
closer to love, or farther, and sooner to loss,
our bashful shoes and arms like lives crossed,
every plural presence now some thing alone,
thanks to our singer-man. We wait for the train,
patient with hope, a hope that’s like complaint.

The editors of Poetry magazine have paired the following prose quotation from City Dog: Essays by W.S. Di Piero with this poem:

I was sitting in the Upper West Side studio of the painter Paul Resika. We’ve known each other nearly twenty years. I’ve seen a great many of his paintings and he has read my books. He’d been wanting to paint me, but since I didn’t have days to give up for an oil portrait, we spent a long afternoon talking, smoking cigarillos, and drinking sherry—very Philippe de Montebello—while he drew. An hour or so along I was confiding secrets (which is not my habit) and relating long-ago events that hadn’t before snagged in my consciousness. I monologued (also not my habit), I couldn’t shut up, I was being a real chiacchierone, as my family would say, wagging their hands as if flicking water from their fingertips. Roy Eldridge boiled from the cd player while I related an anecdote from my childhood, about a time when I briefly and uselessly took music lessons. “You should write about that,” Resika said. And a year later, I do, but in the writing the originating anecdote turns into an essay on how in my youth music became inseparable from physical pain. It’s pure self-portraiture. (But what is its truth?) Meanwhile, it’s three hours later and Paolo has finished two drawings, one a suave, light-handed, rather fair likeness. “Not bad, this one,” he says. “But I think I got something here.” What he got was a portrait that snapped and roared at me—an angular, anxious head that looked not so much drawn as struck. He had found, or reimagined, animal quickenings in my inner life which only I (I thought) was aware of; the image also coined a sensation very familiar to me, a crude blending of idiotic irrational joy and fevered fear of living in a world of harm.

“Solo R&B Vocal Underground” from Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems, © 2007, used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. Prose excerpts selected from City Dog: Essays, © 2009, reprinted by permission of Northwestern University Press.

Source: Poetry (June 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2012
 W. S. Di Piero


W.S. Di Piero was born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned degrees from St. Joseph’s College and San Francisco State College. A poet, essayist, art critic, and translator, Di Piero has taught at institutions such as Northwestern University, Louisiana State University, and Stanford, where he is professor emeritus of English and on faculty in the prestigious Stegner Poetry Workshop. Elected to the American Academy of . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Love, Heartache & Loss, Arts & Sciences, Music, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.