from The Poet Writes The Poem That Will Certainly Make Him Famous


the first line? “blackface is sometimes the truth.”
the poet knows this will make fire.
ponders performing in some dark room, squinting at the black type—
red gel spots like laser sights from a rifle big as a bus.


but here, the sniper stirs herbal tea, has a cell phone,

the number of a woman the color of thrush wings.


for now: the sniper with the cell phone will be he.


he misses the next line beneath the spoon clanging in the mug
like the clapper in a schooner’s alarm bell. the third line,


perhaps: “. . . the smoldering cork testifies . . .” or “. . . the moldy corpse

   terrifies . . .”

he considers each. and wonders about the second line


—then about the girl he saw boarding the bus,
what her name sounds like whispered in a dim room


of red candles, a radio where the poet is. “—ncing and bucking.
and the yes and suh . . .”—he misses something else,


the new line of little to do with corks or corpses—courts, maybe—
and what’s “. . . un a gold coin promise, layaway heaven with teeth and

   silence . . .”?


he is lost between a poem, a cell and a thrush’s wing.


so by this time the poet should probably place a refrain
as this is going to be a long poem, long enough to make the poet famous.




blackface is sometimes the truth
but with added emphasis. a boldface where
the smoldering cork testifies.


                                  [the issue is intent, nahmean?

                                   like what is nahmean when you see
                                   knows its way around the alleys
                                   of the tongue? what is nahmean, nahmean?
                                   and the intent is the issue, you see?] [nahmean?]
blackface is sometimes a lie
but with added detail. a bold face where
the smoldering cork testifies.




but to what? the sawdust packed pockets, the brogan’s salty shadow?

to the straps? scraps off the hips of tin platters?


the train’s constant is a-comin? the minister’s constant that Someday

what is the cork, still smelling of cheap wine, some doe-


eyed muscatel, a poor man’s dream-color of velvet, some sap

fresh from a cicada tableau to a night club in a Sunday suit,


cardboard under his left sock, the bootblack ache slithering out

above his ass, the bootblack cash kissed in waxy fingerprints


offered up, offered up to the waitress who won’t smile for a “what this get?”

the bottle brought back, armpit warm? this cork, tossed to the floor


and kicked, a careless jig swung by a white chick, and rolled below

a table awaiting some jittering negro, whose gig it is to eyeball


these corks, to swoop down, hands a pair of crows, to swoop up

the cork, bear it backstage, to pull it from his pocket like a magician’s dove,


transform it into smoke and ovation.


what does this testify?


what is this truth?


why speak of the fire, the first kiss of flame to the cork?


watch Bamboozled. that’s all I did.


what does this testify?




what is truth?
again reading
some magazine,


again waiting

for the dressing room
door to open:


fire gleaming off the platter

like a breakfast of stars,
burning cork


from Portugal, and cork

doesn’t sink in rough waters,
like fine schooners


from Portugal, and fire

splits the blackness of dark
like the fingers of sailors


from Portugal, whose tongues

teach new tongues to the lips
in the darkness of blacks


from Africa, and burn

the sea into their faces
like smoke in a blue lit


dressing room. and I

close the magazine
full of rappers swimming


in denim, ism smoke

and wait for the door
to open. the embers to ignite




dancing and bucking


spotlight’s prison-break eye and the sweat that lifts from the skull
and the pancake sheen allowed for the cameras, the pancake


that will not run, and the clothes that cling to the mouths of wetness
and the red gels that turn the words into spastic ants holding tiny cue cards!!!!!


but the stomach churn of memorization, no no no, the revisions on the other
copy in the other notebook in the other room no no no the gimpy music stand


tilt, the red eye, the spotlight’s stomach, the prison-break sheen, the ants cling,

the pancake mouth, the spastic words, the cameras lift, the clothes’ wetness,


the skull tilt, churn

                                            no no
                                                       DANCE                BUCK

                                             *   *   *   *
                                          the yes and sir

the room.
the books.
hands telling
what I know
to a machine.
alone. dreaming,
yes, dreaming
of pinning myself
to journals like
a prized butterfly.
the ink of my beauty
fading on the white pages.




a rusty bicycle is a copper skeleton against the mattress.
through the chain link, children kneeling on the concrete
look lined for butchering. chewed sedans bleed into the street,
into sewer bellies.
I’ve written these images too many times. DC is my ghetto—
every black poet should have one, as every white poet should have
a movie-house or a lake. white poets have attractions.


black poets should also have grandmothers.
I have grandmothers—one living, one not. neither mopped
any floor but her own. if I stand on their memories, I am too tall
to be jammed into a tenement. black birds peck at my journals. my fingers
work grime into Elm Place in LeDroit Park, divine urine from Florida Ave
and goad fiends from T Street’s throat. these are not my muses.
an adjective. a noun. a simile. “ragged storefronts like beaten wives.”


I must imagine what might go on behind bricks, past the railing

climbing up the stoops like wrought iron centipedes. the windows are open


sometimes at night. it was hot,

one black grandmother had a pool. air conditioning. on days without smog,
you could see the sea or someone riding a horse
past the liquor store. no one needs horses in Altadena. here,


horses are diamond necklaces. diamond necklaces that shit in crosswalks.

in DC there is a different kind of horse, and I need it for poems as I need ink.


it is not my muse, nahmean? one black grandmother didn’t sit in

the back of buses. Raleigh lay before her, already mopped. the crows are waiting


at the edge of the page. see, the madhouse that seeped out into NE

before exploding into panhandlers stranded in phantom ants,


drifting mothers birthing flying dutchmen, that man who walked

all the way to 6th Street swinging a golf club like a white woman dancing—


these are not my muses.

they aren’t even mirrors.


they are cork awaiting flame.







Douglas Kearney, “The Poet Writes The Poem That Will Certainly Make Him Famous” from Fear, Some. Copyright © 2006 by Douglas Kearney. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.
Source: Fear Some (Red Hen Press, 2006)
More Poems by Douglas Kearney