On RJ Hearing Ray Charles Sing “America” and Other Poems

 
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Reggie Scott Young

Art by Duncan Tonatiuh

 
 

On RJ Hearing Ray Charles Sing “America”

Morning jaunt
near-flooded Riverwalk
after a night of violent rain
I fiddle with the tiny music box
telephone telegraph both
lodged inside as its magic
buttons conjures a tune
shuffled through time and space
into mini speakers
damning up my ears, and
I find myself listening to
that man known as Ray
his melody inducing me
to celebrate the name
I’ve heard launched
from politicos’ mouths
like bombs shot out of darkness
meant to banish or slay those
who look not like them
and it amazes me as I stroll
along this littered path, filth
washed up from the storm
raging in peoples’ collective
souls, to hear how this man
who lacked the ability to see
can encourage me to love
a land that still denies
the likes of me.

 
 

American Redeemers

(for Daniel Cameron)

I saw it in plain
sight out along
the Kentucky
countryside

the tree-poles
crossed
with a body
attached, and I said,

“Oh, no,
Lord, don’t tell me
we’ve crucified you
again,”

but as I grew closer
to thee and got
a better look,
I wiped my brow,

took a redemptive
breath when I saw
it was only that Breonna
Taylor girl

nailed up there
this time.

 
 

Tropical Contrasts

Macondo is a place where
men gather eternally to marvel
over ice and its discovery in their
magical realm.

They never fret about dissipation
because in the cycle of their solitudinous
lives, ice will always come around
again for discovery by
subsequent generations.

But Bluesville men,
rooted in linear lines of
history, leave Delta homes to
sweat in ice houses for the Man
who pays them wages in what-
ever leftover chips they
can stuff into tight pockets
before walking home under
a laughing sun that always
gets a kick out of realism—

the dried water marks in their
soiled cotton trousers
the only material legacy
they’ll leave behind.

 
 

The River Bluesville

Born out of memory’s
shadow, I now see you as
the mirrored road of
watery dreams
we traveled in
our sojourns
from down/South shanty
towns to up/South
hi-rise shanties that
seduced our hopes and
sent them spiraling
with the first touch of
our diasporic toes

Oh, you River,
you jive time tributary
trickster, once transporter of
midnight sojourners
packed in hobo
cars and congested
pickups full of wooly-
headed hoecake
eaters, carrying cargo
on trailer beds,
engines powered by
20 Mule Team
Borax, moving along
on tireless rims with
bearing balls lub-
ricated in castor
oil, our only possessions
unread Bibles, dozens
of mouth harps full
of dried communal
spit, and memories of
marauding sheets
throwing cocktails
against our front
doors on nights when
Jesus rose from
crosses in our lives
to escape the heat of
burning stakes

But, oh, mighty, River
we’ve learned your
currents run both ways
for those with faith
enough to leap back in
and not get swallowed by
your concrete depths,
making us reverse
migrators returning
to legacies forfeited
decades ago by bluesy bloods
who for plates of frank-
less beans and maggot-
rice sold our songs and
soles to the gentrified House
that now carries our sound
in its name

What did we do,
Oh, River, to be
so black and blue
with no change in sight?

Tell me, Oh, River,
what promise do you now hold
as you watch us try
to cleanse ourselves
from sediment in your
banks that once covered our
redemption like lime on
a decomposing dog

Will you take us back
to that Yoknapatawpha past
that only thinks it’s never
passed, because we’ve come back
armed this time, loaded with
books, even some of yours,
and others we’ve written ourselves,
flotation devices to keep our heads
above the red clay waves

Will you join with us,
Oh, River, to usher in a new day?
One risen to the light of a polyphonic
sun beaming rays of new possibility
on once stagnant oppositions

Oh, River,
will you welcome us back
to our old, departed homes, or
watch as we dive back in
that muddy byway and
scatter from your bosom
once again?

 

Spring / Summer 2024



Reggie Scott Young

Reggie Scott Young is the author of the poetry collection Yardbirds Squawking at the Moon (Louisiana Literature Press, 2015). His poems, short stories, and creative essays have appeared in African American Review, Louisiana Literature, Another Chicago Magazine, Taint Taint Taint Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. A community poet in Chicago during his youth, Young now lives in San Antonio where he organizes literary events for the Carver Library on the city’s much neglected East Side. He is the recipient of an individual artists grant from San Antonio’s Department of Arts and Culture for a speculative poetry project titled Searching for Robert Johnson at the Alamodome.



Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh (toh-nah-tee-YOU) is an award-winning author-illustrator whose accolades include the Pura Belpré Medal, the Sibert Medal and The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book Award. Duncan is both Mexican and American. He grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and graduated from Parsons School of Design and Eugene Lang College in New York City. His artwork is inspired by Mesoamerican art, particularly that of the Mixtec codices. His aim is to create images and stories that honor the past, but that are relevant to people, especially children, nowadays. 



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