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Letter From My 48th Year (Mar 8)

Thinking about all of the women on whose shoulder I stand, and I’m dedicating this to them. 

The Makers of Memorials

by Paulette Beete


They sing. The sing blue songs

their mothers wore.

They sing grief, bone-thick & left-handed.

They sing songs cross oceans, cross sidewalks.

They sing skies sealed shut.

They sing men born wearing walking shoes.

They sing women born palms up.

They sing from mouths without lipstick,

charts without notes, pianos without tunes.

They sing back-door songs & apron-

tied-low songs. They sing.

Unmaking the made into something less

teeth-breaking. They sing

dead crops, dead gods, men

put down, men put out,

dreams put off. Off key, off beat, they sing.

Steady. Loud, Relentless. They sing

instead of, in spite of, next door to. They sing

in clinics, in bedrooms, on corners. They sing.

Women in blue & purple, in thorn tiaras braided

from agains & nevermores & never minds.

Songs of children lost, of savings lost,

pawn tickets lost.

They sing. They sing. They sing

blue songs of our mothers,

holler-songs of our blue mothers.

They sing the slow leak that will drown

the world. They call God home

for the re-making.

(This poem has been previously published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly)

Chasing the Blues

When I first started writing seriously in my late 20s, about 99% of my poems were about music and musicians. I was living in Chicago, falling in love with the blues… and bluesmen. I’d follow my favorite bands around town, taking notes during their performances when I wasn’t learning how to drink Manhattans up at the Green Mill. The Mighty Blue Kings, Jimmy Sutton’s Four Charms, The Barclay Three, Ross Bon, Joel Paterson—these were the names, the notes, the line breaks and heartbreaks that filled my notebooks. It took me a long time to discover why I kept chasing  the blues. In fact, I didn’t figure it out till I was 700 miles away, couldn’t count on jukes full of blues anymore, and had started to write about about father-men with wings in their backs, mothers who broke their children, women with empty hands and howling hearts. This poem from my first chapbook Blues for a Pretty Girl was, I think, the last poem I’ll ever write about those Chicago days, but, perhaps, in finally starting to recognize what I’d been chasing all those years, it’s actually another kind of  beginning….

“The First Time I Hear You Sing”

(for Ross Bon)

You are sweat soaked
large hands quarreling the air,
fingers hollering music.

I am small, moaning
hips, shaken loose,
didn’t know notes could

tunnel through me like this.
Harp-mouth, firemaker
you are a room shaker,

giant hands sounding
the tambourine like gunfire.
Your wide mouth a greedy lover

biting up & down the harmonica
prays up that rag doll feeling
that giving over feeling

like when the minister
slapped his oiled hand
on my forehead Feel

the power of Jesus! ‘cept
I never felt it, never fell
back into the arms of an usher

writhing with Jesus
hungry for Jesus
but here you are

the Holy Ghost coming
not as a dove not as a beam
but as breath sweet and sweaty

my body stuttering
pushed past feeling
praying in tongues.

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