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

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