Asher Blake’s Elegy for Charles Mingus

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Jazz Elegy no.1
Charles Mingus

Upraised wrists of a woman
and a fat dead hen
that hangs below.
Three dogs linger for broth and bone.
With wings spread,
one last dance
before the shaman.

He has no poultice
for a foolish soul.
Nonetheless he stoops down
for a smooth stone.

Loamy Earth
lusts for the pines.
The ground moans
when they flex
in the juniper wind.
She never stops braiding
herself with fragrant pine
even to the mid desert stands.

The people open their mouth for spirits.
And shamans names are known
to those in pain.
In the city clinic,
the fame of magic towers
above the poor higher
than Tenochtitlan pyramids,
the desperate lashed to their beds
with plastic twine.

Fingers pluck
the doors of Bellevue
a double bass knocking
through mopped floors.

Mingus-curses
fall solo
for the doctor’s sigh is in his breath
his underscore is in his notes.

Inroads of Mexico
in the American interior,
the white worm healers of Cuernavaca
have Mingus magnetized.

Nonetheless, he dies of ALS.
Respite of the rain in June.
Callused fingertips.

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Charles Mingus, 1922-1979, may he rest in peace.

Wittingham Asluum

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Asher Blake’s Elegy for David Schubert

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Elegy no.2
Poet David Schubert

First she sank in
blanched relief
he left
the clouds to cluster.

Lifting herself,
she could have been made of a sparrow,
it was not light.
One jump launched all

the fires of his ships out.
If you tear the shreds or
moulder me in the attic
still there are the scraps of me

some other woman
rejoins years fidelio
in the ground –
still she tries to make them fit.

She is,
well, am not I,
some kind of sour slave
feeding others?

The skirts of a mother’s suicide,
once uncovered,
are like black pitch
spread across the eyes.

Yes, he left the clouds to cluster.
In my mother
I was as a tie knot
more firm than marriage vows.

More sensitive than a man’s
member, is the skin in a sparrow’s
ear. He flies seaward farther
than the dove.

The shape of a poignant life
is a boy who grows in long fatherless
shadows. All poignant
lives make peninsulas.

Teeming sourdough, or seed
born with germinated seed.
David restless in a clotted pinch.
A hand went within.

There are not enough hands.
We must all love one,
asymmetric, for with the remaining
hand we refuse the Lord.

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This elegy is based on the intensely tragic and painful life of the obscure poet, David Schubert.  Particularly the focus here is on the suicide of his mother after the two had been abandoned by David’s father.  David was the one to discover her hanged.  He eventually became schizophrenic, suffered persistent poverty (including the Depression), and in a psychotic fit destroyed most of his work.  His ex-wife pieced together the fragments of his poems after his death and after 15 years found him a publisher.

David became an inspiration to poets like William Carlos Williams, John Ashberry, and James Wright.  You can read his poetry and what some other poets have made of him at poetryfoundation.org, and short bios at the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry and also at his wikipedia page.

(Painting above by Andrea Kowch)