At Sun Ra's Grave

Birmingham, 2001

Now our god's dismantled,
iron arms, iron hands now laid away,
vacant head beside his vacant feet.
Vulcan, God of All the Fire
That Sleeps in Mountains
now a brash of empty veins.
Now only broadcast towers
lance the night, their amber pulse
the city's only torches,
and below, where the terminal station
blazed 10,000 lights in welcome,
Birmingham: The Magic City,
now expressway scars the blank
and even the streets are gone
where you walked as Herman,
then Sonny, musician, mystic
man from Saturn, in your tinfoil hat
and bedsheet robe, and even
the house is gone, the room
where you played by radio light,
slowly casting off your names.


Now derelicts keep the rails
from the furnaces to the dead West End.
They nest in boxcars and dance-hall doors
boarded up to keep the silence in.
They rattle White and Colored signs
from scrapheaps and campfire on the slag.
They drift, split in lunchcounter windows
then crossing on streetcorners
where firemen hosed the marchers down,
attack dogs gnashing at their heels.
In Kelly Ingram Park, they haunt
bronze water cannons, bronze children
washed in sodium light. They rake
the teeth of cut-steel pinschers,
praying change from their metal tongues.
One lies beneath a swayback boy
hung in a bronze policeman's grip.
Dew rises through the halflight,
a gauze, departing wings.


One drifts in the neon glow of the church's sign,
News wrapped tight around him. In the fold
below his shoulder, the Blanton trial is winding down,
the bomber abandoned, given up by his son,
ex-wife, and neighbors, tapes that have him saying
They ain't going to catch me when I bomb my next church.
In this light he can see the steps where they hid the sitcks
are gone, the stained-glass face of Christ,
rasied from shards now glows, its angle
an aftermath. But the rush, the wind's still here.
Wet night air spreads name from name,
pulling the sheets from his grip, high into the night.


Papers wing through the creosote dim,
over Kelly Ingram and Alabama Power,
through gold Electra's lightning fists
and Linn Park's fountains to the jailhouse
where Blanton waits his verdict, where Cherry
waits for trial. They tissue like smoke
over the interstate, split, descending,
into Fountain Heights, into Oak Hill's graves,
into east-side projects where clothesline billow
and shifts and shirts drift like porters
through the depot's blank. Scatters
spread over Rickwood, over Dynamite Hill
and Tuxedo Junction's boarded jukes,
descending like night herons
into Elmwood where you wait
beneath a stone and a secret name.


There are angels. There are angels!
you said: They guard and watch.
Tonight, their sudden wings
multiply the city's glitter,
the universe whose stars,
you said, are writing of the destiny
of those within the hand of fate.
Tonight, the haunt the ridge
where Vulcan's gauntlets
hold no torch, no iron,
and the streets below where
no dynamite novas bloom.
In abandoned halls, pianos
hold their farewell notes,
radios tremble quietly.
All that is empty is space
like a broken mouth.
A sleep curls there
till the righteous sounds emerge.

Published in A Murmuration of Starlings (2008).
Text may vary slightly from the video reading.

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

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