Tag Archives: Death

Apostate by John Keene

Apostate by John KeeneFeatured in Issue 1 of Madcap Review

Miles Dewey Davis, Jr.

Unbroken, yet the pain of lifting
your right arm remains unbearable,
some terrible shit going down in your blood,
these young dudes, trying to be helpful,
can’t understand what you mumbling,
so they nodding, painting traces
of tired melodies that sicken you
to your soul—where the fuck am I?
following whatever it is
they think they hearing
cause you a legend, and you recall
how astonishing and cruel you once were
towards your elders and peers, still are, tearing
out thirds from Bird and Diz’s circle,
cutting lesser trumpeters, scolding Trane,
strafing tracks by Haden and Evans,
disassembling modal systems,
driving that sweet group with Herbie
and Wayne in the early 1960s,
then fusion, dropping out, funkalating, walking in
late, blowing whether you cared or not,
turning your back to the audience
when you felt it, chords
so cold they would send brothers
and Swedish gals into paroxysms
cause they could never get enough
of what you withheld.  Now
you struggle to cop a breath
to shape a clean note.
Death, keep on stepping.

Truth is, they don’t know a goddamn thing
about Alton, Illinois.  They don’t
know what really went down
with the wives and children,
the other women, all those sidemen
whose shadows you carry around
like passkeys inside your harmonies,
how like the tonic in sonata form
what comes around
goes around and payback surely
is a bitch you’re paying
premium right now.
They don’t know what it means
to be a Black dentist’s son,
a scion, trained at Juilliard
and in the dream logic of Harlem,
returning to your daddy’s farm
long past grown, him leaving
you to live or die
in the sweat of your nightmares
in your room above the barn
as you battle the past,
your ghosts and junk,
wrestling like Jacob
the relentless angel that yearns
to slay you, lay you out
so you keep swinging,
burning in those hazy blues
of backrooms and burning spoons,
turning back to every word
and tune that ever sustained you—

Don’t fail—
finding the breath
to wield a grace note:
Death, not yet.

Tonight: amped to decibels to blow
the eardrums clear of hearing,
bassists and keyboardists
whose names you never learned
or cannot remember,
ancestors and mojos and Ju-Ju
protecting you
even though your heart
keeps popping like a snare drum
and your ears register
only a red buzzing,
you mount the stage—
or was that yesterday,
when you prepared to state
with your horn what your lips
refuse to bear away,
how it’s not about being a genius
or merely surviving, how nobody ever
sees what goes down in the head
of a brother striving so hard
to make something beautiful
and impregnable and lasting
out of the margins of this blue life,
how the dues you pay never suffice,
and you play and play and play
thinking that moment will come
but it never does, or it came so often
you realized it only too late,
like now, so you’ll always blame
yourself, assume responsibility.
Passion is a song you sing
on your own terms: the set opens,
and you hold your breath
to map the evening’s destiny: sound.
Death, get ready.

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Little Creatures by E. E. Lyons

Little Creatures EE Lyons
Featured in Issue 1 of Madcap Review

At night the mice run wild inside our walls, breeding filthy nests of young. They keep my mother from sleep.

– Did you hear them? she says in the morning. She’s wearing a quilt like a chiton, and palming bales of wire wool.

– I didn’t, I say.

– You didn’t see the spiders either.

Last week, at supper, there was a hatching. Tiny, translucent spiders trickling up from the corner. It was just the two of us—all the men have left. She got them with a napkin before they got very far.

My childhood bedroom is in ruin. She says she is over fixing up, but she’s agreed to put the mattress back and patch the drywall where the mice were heard. I found a box of my picture books stashed like smut in the crawlspace. And my old desk, cobwebbed and cowering out in the shed.

She called me down the other day. I was writing. I haven’t written since the split.

– There’s a woodchuck up in the cedar. He’s so fat. He’s going to fall.

He was gone when I got there. She was standing by the back door, radiating light. I’ve noticed lately that the sun will come through her and she will glow all over the kitchen.

He looked like a tunneler, she said. She scratches her braid when she’s strategizing. She’s stopped dyeing her greys.

– We’re losing the deck to the chipmunks. I’ve seen their hole. I’m going to stuff the hose down it this afternoon.

There was a time when she loved the chipmunks and had a name for each one. There was a time when she read The Mitten to me and sewed finger-puppets out of felt. Now, she keeps an owl at her arm. It snatches the swallows from under the eaves. I hear their little guh and my pen goes off the page.

– I’ve been working on the same sentence for weeks, I say at dinner.

– What’s that? she says. She’s pulling some kind of roast out of the oven.

– Do you ever hear from Dad?

When she looks at me, her eyes are marble.

– The war against the wild is unwinnable, she tells me.

She eats and reads schematics for a system of spits.

– I might have to kill this novel, I say.

– Even death is a thing that Nature wills.

-Who said that? I ask. But she is looking out into the night.

When the eating is over, the whole house becomes quiet. The air echoes itself, as in a temple.

I go up to my desk. I keep a picture in the top drawer. An image of an echo: just a bit of tissue that used to nest inside me. I feel another sentence rising, ready to burst whole from my head. But then, a sound. A tiny scratching. Just inside the walls.


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