New and Collected Poems 1964-2007

New and Collected Poems 1964-2007

by Ishmael Reed


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First poetry collection in nearly twenty years. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568583419
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 07/28/2007
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.12(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

New and Collected Poems 1964-2006

By Ishmael Reed Thunder's Mouth Press

Copyright © 2007 Ishmael Reed
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781568583419

Chapter One

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

their cobwebs.

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

reducing formulas

-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

Quadrilling Sun.

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

mean pythons

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/

i mean/

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

and women

scratching out each other's eyes over ambulances

Che Guevara in Congress putting TNT shavings

in the ink wells

and politicians

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/

i mean

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

wrong number

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/

i mean/

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

for Dancer

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 pass.

(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.
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