Monday, April 11, 2011

April 8, Poem 8 - Listening (for Savion Glover)

this offering from a commission for a collabo i'm doing next month


“im to blame for this. I feel that it has not been presented as fun because my approach can be so internal…”

Savion Glover (on the public image of ‘hoofing’)

Before buck & wing or soft-shoe; before

Bill Robinson and definitely before

Fred Astaire – before Lindy Hop or any way

to code shuffle, ball, change, sambo, darkie; before

black dancing had to carry the weight

of black face, before Bamboozled

there were drums.

Before Europe made overboard mermaids

of millions of Africans – before flat-foot

buck and black faces on Broadway

there were drums – and drums talked

and drums spoke loud in three tones.

Drums moaned when squeezed and whispered

across villages. Stretch goat skin across

wood and collaborate with the hands

and there are three living things

colluding to birth alphabets.

When you’re trying to make

people work for free, you can’t

have undecipherable alphabets

on the wind. You must know

exactly what is fact at all time

but it’s bad business to be always

cutting off the feet of your workers

and well-worked feet, moan.

well-worked feet – whisper

terrible things into the night.

Well-worked feet invent alphabets

under your very noses.

Before the Irish became white

and lock-step. Before white was sure

what it wasn’t, the Irish jigged, jumped,

burnt cork and fiddled. Europe’s

niggas were also in the business

of the body’s new languages.

Say Charlie Clarke, say George Primrose,

say niggas had no drums, but they

had night – ask Nat Turner.

At 50 Broadway ‘discovered” Bill Bojangles

Robinson and paired him with the only

white woman America would tolerate

- a child, Shirley Temple – but in 1900

Bill Robinson hollered out a challenge

at Irish Henry Swinton and got straight buck

got ragtime and straight-backed – whupped

that ass – and every American Negro code

involved forever in shutting down anything

that might sound like a drum been making

a tool of black man’s dancing ever since.

The Negro is lazy. The Negro is shuffling.

The Negro is good for nothing but singing

and dancing. See the Negro grin. See the Negro

sambo for whitey…

…whole new way to move

the Negro out of the alphabet he made himself

so if Savion looks extra mad to you,

if Savion is hoofin hard like the wood

is a coffin lid he’s trying to close

shut. If he’s hunched over his own feet

head leaned to the side and sledge

hammering the stage, it’s because

he’s listening to Negro morse code

echoing through ages and ages

of wood and skin – living things

colluding to make language

living things colluding to make song

living things colluding to take our shit



Before Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em

Before Bobby Brown, before Michael

Billie Jean’d a whole new generation

into fascination with black hips and feet

there were the Nicholas Brothers, there

was West African gioube. Minstrel

before black frat brothers stepped.

And always a wave of white America

reminding us of shame, even as new

generations of their children flocked

to dance schools to learn the basic steps;

the beginning of a complex alphabet’s

history. Think Buddy Bradley creating

routines for Ruby Keeler and Adele

Astaire, but always simplifying the rhythms;

always the bait and switch of modified

code. You think you got taught

the alphabet Jack?! Never, you got taught the ABCs!

Before Gregory Hines, there was

William Henry Lane and before him,

Jim Lowe. Before Sammy Davis, Jr.,

there was Buck and Bubbles. Before

New Edition, the Cotton Club Boys.

If there are explosions out of his feet

it is because we are still at war and the frown,

the weight, the high hat of foot, the uprock

and scramble, as Savion leans almost into

the floor, are all him listening for the final

instructions for insurrection. He is listening

for Baby Laurence. He is listening

for Eddie Rector. He is listening

for Ernest Brown. He is listening

for Honi Coles. He is listening

for Jimmy Slyde. He is listening

for Chuck Green. He is building

maps of rebellion. He is revoking

shame. He is making

things right. Finding the drum’s original

moan, the song to yoke

the villages together.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email


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