Read the Great Poets

What good is life without music.
But that's impossible,
one shuffle has always lead to another.
One man hears it start on his lathe,
a mother beats her eggs.
There's a typewriter in the next room.
Two cars are angry at each other.
The baby downstairs is wet again.
I remember the voice of a dead friend.
Everything speaks at the same time.
Music will watch us drown.

I write letters to all those from whom I receive
and to many of those from whom I don't.
I read books, anything, useless piles of random
insufferable rubbish for which, in my torpid panic,
I fall through time and space each day
in my foolish way, remembering only the present feeling,
not the village with its face of death,
nothing to be carried secretly in a car.
I move from the stiff-backed chair
to the brown leather one
as the day wears on. And then finally
the couch, allowing the spirit to leave
the broken body and wander at will.
Lately it's a pasture of Holsteins she longs for.

There's a certain point in each evening when I have to put on some really soul-shattering rock-and-roll music and comb my hair into this special caveman fright-wig. I've done as much as two or even three dollars worth of damage to my apartment in one hour of all-stops-pulled Bacchic, Dionysian celebration and revolution of this great dull life, so fascinating it hypnotizes you and then puts you to sleep, only to never know the ending. It's strange though, no one ever complains. Is it what I feared all along? We are playing the same song and no one has ever heard anything.

People read poems like newspapers, look at paintings as though they were excavations in the City Center, listen to music as if it were rush hour condensed. They don't even know who's invaded whom, what's going to be built there (when, if ever). They get home. That's all that matters to them. They get home. They get home alive.

So what it's been burgled. The heirlooms. Mother's rings, father's cufflinks. They go to a distant land and get robbed there. It's the same everywhere. Read the great poets, listen to the great composers. It's the same everywhere. The Masters. The Thieves.

From VIPER JAZZ (Wesleyan, 1976)


Poems by James Tate

Read the Great Poets

The Workforce