“9 23 99: Coltrane Notes on the Millenium,” a poem by Michael Harper

January 22nd, 2007

 

9 23 99: Coltrane Notes on the Millenium

by Michael Harper

“Alabama”
no protection still

that is not churchdriven
James Weldon Johnson’s alternate tune

steep archival research
in playback of the melodies

wrested in church of the beloved
(no simple timeline in melodies

hummed at the vortex of a bomb
Birmingham     television hoses as carnival

reminiscent of Sharpeville)
what is African in us subliminal

as you discovered the soprano
which Miles saw that you had

when in France the makers of instruments
wanted to give him something     French

your kiss of the fluid accents
like no sorcerer ever heard in the vedas

mistaken in byplay as prayer
the intense registers of praise

high up in the registers
of salvation         all-knowing dross         in this world

if gnosis         is not forgiveness
already granted in the penultimate hour

(what does a black man on a foreign instrument
have to teach the world other than intentional suffering)

I would trust the pieta as parlance
in the free gift faithfully offered

as your compositions
transcribed yet unrecorded

in the vigor of a practice session
as the reed enables the passages of praise

all technical mastery
layed at the feet       of the high mode

*

John Forasté © Brown University

About Michael Harper

     Michael Harper is one of America’s most celebrated poets, having received honors and appointments from artistic organizations and academic institutions across the country, ranging from National Book Award to a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is much sought after for poetic readings, guest lectureships, and visiting professorships, and served as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1988 to 1993, and as Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University.

     His poetry is highly influenced by the music he loves: jazz and blues sound through the lines and often appear as inspiration, metaphor or rhythm in individual poems. His poetry is filled with references to his past; history, experience, and family are strong inspirations which reverberate throughout his work. His ancestry, to which he refers frequently, is filled with fascinating and inspirational individuals. Paraphrasing Ralph Ellison, Harper once said: “Relatives are people that you are born into, and have no choice about them. Ancestors are people you choose.” His ancestors live on and their voices can still be heard in the lines of his verse.

From Brown University Library

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