GRAVY #53: INSCRIPTION FOR AIR

GRAVY #53: INSCRIPTION FOR AIR

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INSCRIPTION FOR AIR by Jake Adam York
—excerpted from Gravy 53: Food and Social Justice, page 42 

John Earl Reese, shot while dancing in a café in Mayflower, Texas, October 2, 1955.

Not for the wound, not for the bullet,
++power’s pale cowardice, but
for you, for the three full syllables
++of your name we hold whole
as a newborn by the feet, and so
++for the cry, the first note, the key
So every word to follow, the timbre,
++The tone, the voice that could sing
Nat King Cole’s “If I May,” and slow
++dance the flip side, the blossoms
fallen like a verdict to the jury’s lips,
++not to the blood or the broken
glass or the spiders silking juke-box
++wires in a junkman’s shed,
but the fingers’ heat still on the dime
++when it slides to the switch,
the lamp on the platter, the groove
++that tells the needle what to say,
and the pine boards of the café floor
++once moved by the locusts’ moan
now warm as a guitar’s wood, revived
++with all the prayers of songs, Amens
that flame when a blues turns bright,
++not for what was lost, but what
was lived, what is written here,
++in the night, in vinyl, in the air,
for the bead of sweat at the hair’s deckle,
++the evening star in the trees,
soda-pop sugar wild on your tongue and
++for the tongue telling Saturday night
something of Sunday morning, fluent
++as a mockingbird, and for the hand
that opens as if in praise, as if in prayer,
++asking for another to fill it there,
for the smile and for the smile of skin
++behind the ear where love might lip its name,
for you, if we may, pull back the arm
++and start the music once again.

Jake Adam York (1972-2012) was a poet from Glencoe, Alabama, whose work often focused on the civil rights movement in the American South. “Inscription for Air” was originally published in Abide, copyright 2014 by the Estate of Jake Adam York. Reproduced by permission of Southern Illinois University Press. The SFA thanks Sarah Skeen, Joe York, and Southern Illinois University Press. PHOTO BY Mike Garofalo.

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