New and Collected Poems, 1964-2006by Ishmael Reed
One of the founding fathers of multicultural studies, Ishmael Reed first came to the attention of the literary world as a poet and, despite success as a novelist, playwright, essayist, and recording artist, he has never ceased to be a poet, delving into waters spiritual and political with his own unexpected and uniquely powerful voice. New and Collected Poems, 1964-2007 captures four decades of Reed's inimitable verse, a visionary journey from New York and Chattanooga to Africa, Oakland, and Japan. In language that is pointed, innovative, and profoundly optimistic, Reed weaves politics and war with Nigerian poetry and jazz, all in the service of his continual redefinition of American culture.
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Read an ExcerptNew and Collected Poems 1964-2006
By Ishmael Reed Thunder's Mouth Press
Copyright © 2007 Ishmael Reed
All right reserved.
The Ghost in Birmingham
The only Holy Ghost in Birmingham is Denmark Vesey's Holy Ghost, brooding, moving in and out of things. No one notices the figure in antique cloak of the last century, haunting the pool games, talking of the weather with a passerby, attending mass meetings, standing guard, coming up behind each wave of protest, reloading a pistol. No one notices the antique figure in shabby clothing, moving in and out of things-rallies of moonshine gatherings-who usurps a pulpit and preaches a fire sermon, plucking the plumage of a furious hawk, a sparrow having passively died, moving in and out of chicken markets, watching sparrow habits become hawk habits, through bar stools and greenless parks, beauty salons, floating games, going somewhere, haranguing the crowds, his sleeves rolled up like a steelworker's, hurling epithets at the pharoah's club-wielding brigade, under orders to hunt down the firstborn of each low lit hearth.
There are no bulls in America in the sense of great symbols, which preside over resuscitation of godheads, that shake the dead land green. Only the "bull" of Birmingham, papier mache, ten dollars down monthly terms, carbon copy mock heroic American variety of bullhood, who told a crowded room of flashbulbs that there was an outsider moving in and out of thingsthat night, a spectre who flashed through the night like Pentecost.
He's right, there was.
Not the spook of the Judaic mystery, the universal immersed in the particular. Not the outsider from unpopular mysteries, a monstrous dialectic waddling through the corridors of his brain, but the nebulous presence hidden by flashbulbing events in Birmingham, Metempsychosis stroking the air.
Pragma the bitch has a knight errant called Abbadon, in the old texts the advocate of dreadful policies. The whore, her abominations spilling over, her stinking afterbirths sliming their way towards a bay of pigs, has a bland and well-groomed knight errant who said that "if we hand down a few more decisions, pile up paper, snap a few more pictures by Bachrach of famous people before grand rhetorical columns of the doric order, perhaps they will stop coming out into the streets in Raleigh, Greensboro, Jackson and Atlanta sometimes called the Athens of the south).
Pragma's well-groomed and bland procurer is on long
distance manufacturing heroes, Heroes who bray in sirens screaming in from Idlewild,
winging in from points south, Their utterances cast into bronze by press-card-carrying
harpies, those creatures of distorted reality.
O ebony-limbed Osiris, what clown folk singer or acrobat
shall I place the tin wreath upon? When will Osiris be scattered over 100 ghettos? Heroes are ferried in by motorcycle escorts, their faces cast
into by Pointillism, by Artzybasheff, Sculptor of Henry Luce's America.
Introducing the King of Birmingham, sometimes called the
anointed one, Who receives the tin wreath across Americana banquet
rooms, His hands dripping with blood like a fanatical monk as
rebellion squirms on the stake.
Introducing the Black Caligula, who performs a strip tease
of the psyche, Between Tiffany ads and Vat 69, giving up a little pussy for
a well-groomed and bland knight errant.
O ebony-limbed Osiris, what knight club tap dancing charlatan
shall I place the tin wreath upon? All things are flowing said the poet when gods ambushed
Khan follows Confucius
Light follows darkness
Tin wreathed heroes are followed by the figure in antique
clothes, obscured by the flashbulbing events in Birmingham. Metempsychosis in the air.
The Jackal-Headed Cowboy
We were-clinging to our arboreal-rustled
by a poplin dude so fast that even now
we mistake big mack trucks flying
confederate crossbones for rampaging
steer, leaping into their sandpaper hides
and lassoing their stubble faced drivers as they roar into
corn flaked greasy spoons.
We span the spic and spanned cesspools
nerves rankling like hot headed guerrillas
bayoneting artery routes and crawling through
our bowels with blades in their teeth.
Our mohair suits, our watches, our horn
rimmed glasses and several telephones
petition us to slow down as we forget
whose soupcan we swim.
We stand at Brooklyn Bridge like
mayakovsky before, deafened by the nuts
and bolts and clogged in the comings and
goings of goings of Usura
We are homesick weary travelers in the
Jungian sense and miss the brew of the
long night's pipe.
Our dreams point like bushy mavericks to
hawking game and scattering ripple falls.
We will swing from giant cables as if
they were hemp, hacking away at sky
scrapers till they tumble into christmas crowds.
We will raid chock full O nuts untying
apron strings crouching stealthily in the streets
breaking up conference rooms sweeping away
forms memo pads, ransoming bank presidents
shoving dollar bills through their mahogany jaws.
We will sit on Empire Sofas listening to
Gabrieli's fortissimo trumpets blare for
stewed and staggering Popes as Tom Tom mallets
beat the base of our brains.
We will leap tall couplets in a single bound
and chant chant Chant until our pudgy swollen
lips go on strike.
Our daughters will shake rattle roll and slop
snapping their fingers until grandfather
clocks' knees buckle and Tudor mansions free
Our mothers will sing shout swing and foam
making gothic spires get happy clapping the
night like blown up Zeppelin.
We will sizzle burn crackle and fry like combs
snapping the naps of Henri Christophe's daughters.
and We will scramble breasts bleating like
some tribe run amuck up and down desecrating
cosmotological graveyard factories.
and We will mash stock exchange bugs till
their sticky brown insides spill out like
reams of ticker tape.
and We will drag off yelling pinching bawling
shouting pep pills, detergents, acne powders,
clean rooms untampered maiden heads finger bowls
napkins renaissance glassware time subscriptions
-please call before visiting-
-very happy to make your acquaintanceship i'm sure-
and boil down one big vat of unanimal stew
topped with kegs and kegs of whipped dynamite
and cheery smithereens.
and then We will rush like crazed antelopes
with our bastard babies number books mojo goofer
dusting razor blades chicken thighs spooky ha'nts
daddygracing fatherdivining jack legged preaching
bojangles sugar raying mamas into one scorching
burning lake and have a jigging hoedown with the
and the panting moneygrabbing landlord
leeching redneck judges will scuffle
the embankment and drag the lipstick sky outside.
and their fuzzy patriarchs from Katzenjammer orphic
will offer hogmaws and the thunder bird and their overseers
will offer elixir bottles of pre punch cards
and the protocol hollering thunder will announce
our main man who'll bathe us and swathe us.
and Our man's spur jingles'll cause the clouds to
kick the dust in flight.
And his gutbucketing rompity bump will
cause sweaty limp flags to furl retreat
and the Jackal-headed cowboy will ride reins
whiplashing his brass legs and knobby hips.
And fast draw Anubis with his crank letters from Ra
will Gallop Gallop Gallop
our mummified profiled trail boss
as our swashbuckling storm fucking mob rides shot
gun for the moon and the whole sieged stage coach
of the world will heave and rock as we
bang stomp shuffle stampede cartwheel and cakewalk our
way into Limbo.
The Gangster's Death
how did he die/ O if i told you,
you would slap your hand
against your forehead
and say good grief/if I gripped you
by the lapel and told how they dumped
thalidomide hand grenades
into his blood stream and/
how they injected
a cyst into his spirit the size of an egg
which grew and grew until floating
gangrene encircled the globe
and/how guerrillas dropped from trees like
and squeezed out his life
so that jungle birds fled their perches/
so that hand clapping monkeys
from branches and/
how twelve year olds snatched B-52's
from the skies with their bare hands and/
how betty grable couldn't open a hershey bar
without the wrapper exploding and/
how thin bent women wrapped bicycle chains
around their knuckles saying
we will fight until the last bra or/
give us bread or shoot us/and/
how killing him became child's play
in Danang in Mekong in Santo Domingo
and how rigor mortis was sprinkled
in boston soups
giving rum running families
stiff back aches
so that they were no longer able to sit
at the elbows of the president
with turkey muskets
on their behinds watching the boat races
off Massachusetts through field glasses but/
how they found their duck pants
pulled off in the get-back-in-the-alleys
of the world and/
how they were routed by the people
spitting into their palms
just waiting to use those lobster pinchers
or smash that martini glass and/
how they warned him
and gave him a chance
with no behind the back dillinger
killing by flat headed dicks but/
how they held megaphones
in their fists
come out with your hands up and/
how refusing to believe the jig was up
he accused them
of apocalyptic barking
saying out of the corner of his mouth
come in and get me and/
how they snagged at his khaki legs
until their mouths were full
of ankles and calves and/
how they sank their teeth into his swanky jugular
getting the sweet taste of max factor
on their tongues and/
how his screams were so loud
that the skins of eardrums blew off
and blood trickled
down the edges of mouths
and people got hip to his aliases/
democracy and freedom began bouncing
all over the world
like bad checks
as people began scratching their heads
and stroking their chins
as his rhetoric stuck in his fat throat
while he quoted
men with frills on their wrists
and fake moles on their cheeks
and swans on their snuff boxes
who sit in Gilbert Stuart's portraits
talking like baroque clocks/
who sit talking turkey talk
to people who say
we don't want
to hear it
as they lean over their plows reading Mao
wringing the necks of turkeys
and making turkey talk gobble
in upon itself
in Mekong and Danang and Santo Domingo
Che Guevara made personal appearances everywhere
Che Guevara in Macy's putting incendiary flowers
on marked down hats
scratching out each other's eyes over ambulances
Che Guevara in Congress putting TNT shavings
in the ink wells
tripped over their jowls trying to get away
Che Guevara in small towns and hamlets
where cans jump from the hands of stock clerks
in flaming super markets/
where skyrocketing devil's food cakes
contain the teeth of republican bankers/
where the steer of gentleman farmers
shoot over the moon like beef}" missiles
while undeveloped people
stand in road shoulders saying
fly Che fly bop
a few for us
put cement on his feet
and take him for a ride
O Walt Whitman
visionary of leaking faucets
great grand daddy of drips
you said I hear america singing
but/how can you sing when your throat is slit
and O/how can you see when your head bobs
in a sewer
in Danang and Mekong and Santo Domingo
and look at them weep for a stiff/
a limp dead hood
Bishops humping their backsides/
folding their hands in front of their noses
forming a human carpet for a zombie
men and women looking like sick dust mops/
running their busted thumbs
across whiskey headed guitars/
weeping into the evil smelling carnations
of Baby Face McNamara
and Killer Rusk
whose arms are loaded with hijacked rest
in peace wreaths and/
look at them hump this stiff in harlem/
sticking out their lower lips/
and because he two timed them/
midget manicheans shaking their fists
in bullet proof telephone booths/
dialing legba on long distance
receiving extra terrestrial sorry
seeing big nosed black people land in space ships/
seeing swamp gas/
shoving inauthentic fireballs down their throats/
bursting their lungs on existentialist rope skipping/
look at them mourn/
drop dead egalitarians and CIA polyglots
crying into their bill folds
we must love one another or die
while little boys wipe out whole regiments with bamboo
while wrinkled face mandarins store 17 megatons in
for people have been holding his death birds
on their wrists and his death birds
make their arms sag with their filthy nests
and his death birds at their baby's testicles
and they got sick and fed up
with those goddamn birds
and they brought their wrists together and blew/
puffed their jaws and blew and shooed
these death birds his way
and he is mourned by
drop dead egalitarians and CIA polyglots and
midget manicheans and Brooks Brothers Black People
throwing valentines at crackers
for a few spoons by Kirk's old Maryland engraved/
for a look at Lassie's purple tongue/
for a lock of roy rogers' hair/
for a Lawrence Welk champagne bubble
as for me/like the man said
i'm always glad when the chickens come home to roost
The Feral Pioneers
I rise at 2 a.m. these mornings, to
polish my horns: to see if the killing
has stopped. It is still snowing outside:
it comes down in screaming white
We sleep on the floor. I popped over
the dog last night & we ate it with
roots & berries.
The night before, lights of a
wounded coyote I found in
(The horse froze weeks ago)
Our covered wagons be trapped
in strange caverns of the world.
Our journey, an entry in the thirty-
year old Missourian's '49 Diary.
Excerpted from New and Collected Poems 1964-2006 by Ishmael Reed Copyright © 2007 by Ishmael Reed. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Ishmael Reed is the award-winning author of nine novels, plus numerous books of poetry, essays, plays, and an opera libretto. He lives in Oakland, California.
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