the undertaker: a very long pome




Part One: Philadelphia


The Undertaker is a

potent figure in the Cosmology of the

Negro Neighborhood, standing

somewhere between Baron Samedi and

Charon and Paul in the

hodgepodge of religious myth that

infuses Negro

blood since after The Flood and before

The Fall (that’s)


(and 1864, respectively,)

(y’all). every


sweatbox Baptist

storefront Hall with

crosses soaped on

steamed-up street level

windows and a

drumkit near the

pulpit and all,  has one

square-jawed well-dressed man to which

the heart-stopped sisters will

report, slack jaw’d and black-tit

naked as a last

resort: Maybelle splayed on the

stainless steel

table; Nelly with his

trochar in her

belly; to be

sewn up and bewigged and

bought back by

kin folk like



In ’75 the adolescent bard came to

Philly to live, to seek asylum from his

run-down origins. his

grandmother’s sister and his

grandmother’s sister’s husband and a family friend ran

a Funeral Home on C____ Street and

took him in. the first nude girl he saw his age was

dead; he found himself at

10pm in homes that smelled of

chicken dinners, pulling

old men by ankles from their

beds. which had the effect

of making Sylvia Plath seem

so much less than serious; just

hysterical, instead; to think some

grape-dark skin came

off in your hands and

sheets were stiff with

black shit shat in perishing by some

poverty-ravished Nigger and the orangey blood he

shudderingly bled,  gluing the sheets to

his fingers and

the back of his head, then who-the-fuck must care

what Sylvia’s goddamned daddy



that was the year of paperback friendships and

other people’s next of

kin; Philly was the Gothic backdrop; the Prussian ghosts and

hoagie shops and

the sinisterly ubiquitous William Penn and

sternly integrated

Quaker Friends, and the sound back then:

Doo Wop residue and

Gamble and Huff and Negro chapel requiems with

The White Album thrown in as his

imagination’s only

alternative, his bedroom lit

like an aquarium by the

Atlantic light of the FM dial, (all four sides played)

(entire one night) ( he nodded off and dreamed)

(four bodies in the)

(chapel were)

(British and white);  and the smells? the

odor of Life in

’75… was Old Spice and

Formaldehyde;  herbal lotion on the

hand he milked his

new good penis with, plus strawberry incense from the

Head Shop and

Vaseline on the anus of

the sister of his

friend, a  milk-white boy-thin girl who

quoted Sylvia post-

coitally,  wiping herself matter-

of-factly while

grinning. he shyly showed her

poems typed on

onionskin; she provided

mocking encouragement; her

poems were better but

beginning Good she would

never be Great: beginning Poor he

had to

compensate; she gave him poems to

overtake; she

cut the sex off when


he did



Part Two: Eclosion




his son was born 8:30 a.m. on

the first of many

last days of a

youth, a

secret self the

mother longed to

confess to their futon. ecloded on that


pillow on that

threadbare bedspread amid a million

coins of temperatureless sun, he

gushed out when the

midwife lathered

kyra’s cunt with

lanolin. half


rich white trash, half

poor black poet the

child cried just like

he knowed it



that one-room flat near Franklin

in a flop-house converted from

a mansion; in a

corner of that

one room where the

floor is lit by moon: the Nigger bard administers

a dithyramb of formula to

baby bard and winces like

the nipple’s an extension of his

milkless flat black

bosom. while baby sucks they waltz around


the trapezoid of light: a

window in the hardwood floor, the

corner where he




by day they walk the dollar path, up 26th to

Nicollet, where foodstamp booklets gutted strew, mixed up with

old brown leaves and stamped by muddy

shoes, with

philatelic beauty at

the bus stop by the

corner shop like

thousand-Zloty bills


the bard (at 21) and the bard’s own

half a year of

son, strapped up

on his back like a

second chance of doing things the

bard himself’s not

done, or not done right, or done all wrong against

his will (or for)

(the fun) (one)




from 26th to Lake street: Abdul’s

Effendi (falafel cheap, one waitress)

(pretty) , and

the Artist’s Quarter where local-rummy-tenor-great

Eddie Berger blew, nicknamed

“Red Eye” Berger (by now)

(“The Late…”)  and that

terraced place at 28th,  the one for

would-be patrons of the Arts (as chatty and afraid as)

(tourists): the Black Forrest

where he took his dates (saving up)

(each week for the strudel and the cider, sparkling, with)

(dollar tip for pride of kissing rights those)

(twenty dollar Friday nights before)

(they’d go watch Eddie)

(play and mutter)


(his hands unsteady)

(drenched in sweat like frying butter)

(this number’s for the hipper whites…)


(are there any people in the audience tonight?)




back home to crib for the afternoon’s nap

the secondhand drapes like pregnancies bulge

with sun & birth

a breeze &

collapse; the city scents of

café grill & jasmine

flowerbox &

chevron shapes of boot-heeled sidewalk lithographs of

van gogh-yellow dogshit & krisna incense &

curry from the communal kitchen in

the back; & oh


the smell of sex

the neighborhood reeked of it

the genteel raunch of disaffected dilettantes which

breeding bred from it; all

garlic breath and

periods and hash like sweat

in a skillet


the Nigger bard inhales it deep while

baby bard is called

to the brink of the speechlessness he spent

his fetal life un-willing,  dreaming

pictographs, the Lascaux cave of own

sweet nap


and the Nigger bard sits with legal pad in

lap, versifying in his corner of the

one-room flat, chewing on the pen cap and

x-ing lines with vehemence and balling up the

first nine drafts



I know that damn look, familiar as a phone number

I’m prone to it walking down aisles of trinkets:

the shopkeeper blinks, other customers think it.

I know that expression, its air of forbearance, that

hair-trigger shift from half-wary to sirens, the

look on your face as I read you this passage,


impertinent Nigger thief stealing

the language


he prints it neatly out, then

conjures up




periodically the bard indulged his

ancestor fetish, fanning like tarot these

mothwing-fragile photographs with

relish, cookie-brown daguerreotypes and curling

Brownie black-and-whites or Ike-era

Easter-pallet Kodachromes from

the shoebox beside the

typewriter. all long-dead

as Canaanites; the great-great-greats and

fetching antebellum cousins (tulle-gowned )

(quadroon Rapunzels by the dozen): dust. much

easier than the living ones to

like (or trust); the family as

archive; the grave as

tintype; the photographs so sweetly like

an epitaph printed

by lightning. the frightened pride


so evident in every identical posing! the

sitters in their finest clothing,

chin-up, straight-back’d, faux-imposing, heroes of that black

eugenic project, The Great Work their

breeding’s object: the twisted uplift of the Negro race through

mulattony. the jargon of that cringey movement, the

weft and texture of race improvement:  “good”  or  “wavy”  hair or

“olive-skinned” or  “hazel-eyed” or “fair,”  the genealogic micrometer that

limned the lip and spanned the

nostril; graded the shade and

collated the follicle


let’s be frank about their “Striver’s Row,”

that’s what they were striving for



The paper bag test; the Hamitic nose turned

up at the Bantu bootie in

disgust; the shopgirl’s

tawny versus the janitoress’ molasses

breast, and jim crow revues of

chiffon-skinned chorines at

Roseland and The Regal and the rest,

restricted venues touting not only sassy

Sapphire and bucking Butterfly Mcqueen but saditty pouty Lena blessed

with ass-length mane much prized

by Ashkenazim and hincty

Nigger jazzmen alike; the

mocha kootchie/Nigger pussy

wartime ersatz


fam pat



what would they have made of me? my pale-skinned child? his

europe-eyed mother? am I as bad as the others?


he puts the family in their

shoebox and shudders



Part Three: Epitaphs


WS’ was a creepy curse; Emily’s reads

“called back” (or)

(reimbursed) and he at 30 to

kill a three-day weekend plots his

own stone verse in

draft after draft of

epitaph while

drinking/ smirking (plus the stinking)

(VCR’s not)



the avenue’s a patent leather belt; the

rain-bearded air and welted

windows and the wetted shingle

smells; he tilts on

Shaker back-legs (oblique revenge against)

(his woman’s wealth), tingling

and sneezing in the screen door and shaking

in Memorial Day breezes like

a mortal sparkling of the

“self”, naked in its skin:


he liked to play “what if?” and

            after that, “if, then”


(not bad but flashy and)

(oblique: an epitaph should)

(make immediate sense)



the apartment’s dark, outside is filled

with the crash and patter and soak

of weather, and million sparks of

high-beam lights that

wick and shatter; guide incessant

cars together, a

sluice-along procession at

the dignified velocity of

the blind or

the wise or

the tarrying ride

to a burial rite, about the star of which

the wry might bitch

he did and didn’t

make it. naked


as an upper-case A in the

doorway (the busted Shaker)

(foal-legs cracked) (sits in shock)

as he stands, bottle-grips the

hard-necked Muse and crafts his



Here lies Joe, Still

            Black, (too glib, then)

Not Quite Called but

            Fallen Back.


peering, he can see their bed along a vacant line of sight

through three small rooms to the front of the flat in bleary light.

beside the bed, a nightstand on which a bottle of great beauty (he)

(drank the stuff inside but) (she was too snooty)

is sodomized by a candle she claimed to like. above the bed

those middlebrow diplomas: Van Gogh’s painting of his final field; a

steel-framed print of Arbus dunces,

their quaintly stunted poses

(and by the way)

(middlebrow means)

(not knowing but knowing about the work of)

(Immanuel Kant or)

(reading one Umberto Eco once)

(or finding anything written or spoken)

(by some British bloke so very)

(serious or terribly)

(funny) (or better yet saying)

(“vagina” in place of that)

(lower-or-higher-brow chestnut)



he stepped out on the landing over akimbo Shaker, exiting the flat like

a simple objet d’art crafted from glue and a stack of shadows by some gifted

Nigger-maker (don’t forget he’s still)

(naked as blood in a)

(beaker) so

down the backstairs towards

garbage can and garden, the

shimmering steps in sizzling

darkness, he’s never felt

so typical in

life: a truly Nigger thing to

do alright, to

lurk with no intention but of



(he remembers reading)

(an issue of Psychology Today about some Wasps’)

(stigmatic bleeding)

(and on pg. 23 a treatise on the syndrome plaguing weedy)

(men, who, reaching 33)

(fretfully compare themselves to Christ)

(troubled by what little they’d each achieved by the time)

(said Son of Man had floor-planned the futures of)

(Belfast and Rome and)

(inspired modern Anti-Semitix and militarized the womb while)

(finding time to)

(gerrymander Palestine)

(in eponymous millennia to come)


(but, dig: they once asked Coltrane’s cousin)

(didjall think the brother would amount to sumpin?)

(and she said no)

(nobody thought anybody was going to be anything)

(and that’s exactly right)


(any Nigger’s epitaph)

(could only be)


(i tried )





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