An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
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  • In the Magic City

          Birmingham

    The needle floats over and over
        the end of Coltrane's "Alabama,"
    channeling in the rush of feet,
        of tires wearing down
    into the asphalt and the browning air
        the static that backs the horn

    when I start it up again.
        Tyner almost sweats
    what he keeps just out of time,
        what Jimmy's talking from the strings
    like something's coiled up there,
        a static even Elvin never shakes.

    Or maybe what the needle thinks,
        some Old South air trapped in ladled steel,
    a space that quotes the ridges
        and their empty veins, old Sloss
    filling up with fire
        or Cherry's heat opening 16th Street

    into the space Coltrane fills
        when he feeds his tenor,
    what Sun Ra kept opening out
        for anything more
    than George Wallace's crossroads deal,
        the static in Clifford Gibson singing

    Keep your windows pinned
        as storm winds thrill Sloss's tunnels
    and flush its ghosts out over the city
        where Vulcan's torch goes red,
    Coltrane raining down his "Alabama"
        like white-hot iron, like stars

    that draw from the dark as they spin
        Maubilla and Horseshoe Bend
    the way Elvin works the cymbals
        into distant crowds.

    And when it ends again
        I step out and through the blocks
    where you can hear
        the quartets warming up
    through the nightclub chatter
        and hope tonight,

    in one of these joints
        some DJ breaks all his needles,
    some combo plays harder
        than they've ever played,
    that someone, that anyone
        will work just hard enough

    to shut the city down
        and groove the night again.

     

    Published in Murder Ballads (2005).
    Text may vary slightly from the video reading.

    Published: 1 April 2008
    © 2008 Jake Adam York and Southern Spaces