“Green Street” – a poem by George Kalamaras

December 8th, 2023

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The cover to Grant Green’s 1962 album Nigeria [Universal Music Group]

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Green Street
…..for Grant Green

How can somebody so blue, Grant, be named
…….Green? How can the ocean current

and its waves? Simple. Immediate. Each note comes
…….from you slow as underwater speech. Say

a fish tank and pufferfish hugging the glass. Imagine
…….being trapped. Gravel pumped through the gills

of centuries we have loved forever
…….and have been. You are past and present

at once. I love your smooth, your
…….groove, your gritty waves of guitar as they bend

toward me and through. It is so. Has always
…….been so. Yet It Ain’t Necessarily So, my all-time

favorite cut of yours. You burn, Grant, with Sonny Clark,
…….Sam Jones, and Blakey. Ten minutes, twenty seconds

into which I forever fall through mud-depths
…….of the sea. How can the world have gone on in its deep

forgetting of you? The way you not only led sets like this
…….but also backed others, bolstering some of the best

sides I dig. I can’t imagine the knotted ropes
…….of love braided together in George Braith’s

Extension without you. Or Lee Morgan’s wandering
…….riffs in his Search for a New Land. Or your wood-burning

sets, say, with Jimmy Forrest and Elvin Jones. Hank Mobley.
…….Ike Quebec. Stanley Turrentine. Larry Young. McCoy.

You greened the streets with your groove. That punchy, biting
…….tone. Turning off the bass and treble of your amp, magnifying

the midrange. Your Gibson ES-330. Your L7. Your Epiphone
…….Emperor with its princely tone. Where are they now,

and what of your long, strong fingers, Grant, longing
…….to stroke any simple thing—even a blowing branch—

in Greenwood Cemetery back home in St. Louis?
…….Have they dropped to dust? Have they ached to ash?

What did you gift us? Grant us? And how did we bite back,
…….unknowingly, that led you to the needle and spoon?

How can the color wheel? How can someone so blue?
…….How can any missing word urge us back into a sad

sadder than you? How can your simple, immediate notes
…….come slow as still growth? Still, even among trees

whose leafy green shades your cemetery
…….stone? You are past and past and presently

forever yet clear as underwater speech.
…….As mud-muck gone clear. As the slow motion

of hand movements that say, Come here, come
…….here; place your ear to this still-bell shell

of my body, this rain-soaked place, this sound
…….from which such depths still ache.

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photo by Jim Whitcraft

George Kalamaras is former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014– 2016) and Professor Emeritus at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he taught for thirty-two years. He has published twenty-three collections of poetry, fourteen full-length books and nine chapbooks. His latest book is To Sleep in the Horse’s Belly: My Greek Poets and the Aegean Inside Me, a 300-page chronicle of George’s Greek ancestry—literary, artistic, and familial (Dos Madres Press, 2023).

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Listen to the 1962 recording of Grant Green performing George and Ira Gershwin’s composition “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” with Sonny Clark (piano); Sam Jones (bass); and Art Blakey (drums). [Universal Music Group]

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