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Other notable works by JL Kato and Diane L. Lewis.
My Band Career
Playing trombone on Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust”
in the dance band as a high school freshman
in the glow of soft purple light with a few guys
and mostly girls dancing in socks was ultra cool,
but marching in the band during halftime of football
games was anything but. Once Mr. Cox, the band
director, caught me dogging it in practice for the state
fair marching competition, on the football field.
“That’s okay, Krapf,” he boomed out. “I know
You don’t want to be here.” How right he was!
When I dressed with the varsity football team
as a sophomore, Coxie insisted that at halftime
I change into my band uniform to march,
then change back into pads and football garb
and return to my seat on the team bench.
This wretched rivalry was tearing me apart.
When a freshman challenged me, I was demoted
by a seat, gave up, and dropped out. Goodbye,
Mr. Cox! Hello endzone, which I found
in a uniform more suited to my passion.
Decades later I took up the violin, played
by my father and grandfather, when
my daughter, six, started Suzuki violin.
After a year of group class for parents,
I kept fiddling on my own. One day my
daughter, who didn’t like the competition,
looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, would
you please quit?” I did. I lost but also won;
daughter got a violin scholarship to college.
After thirty-five years of publishing poetry,
I started performing poems about Hoagy
and Cole and Wes Montgomery with a jazz
trio in a sunlit glass dome, then returned
to an early love, the gut-bucket country blues.
I started collaborating with a bluesman
who taught me how to play slide guitar.
Mr. Cox, who’s almost back in the band?
Stovall and Burnt Cane Roads
for Muddy Waters
Found the intersection where you,
lived, McKinley Morganfield,
in a cabin that became a house
you turned into a juke joint.
Heard the sound of bottleneck
guitar playing in the breezes
riffling the pecan trees
like the ones must have stood
here when your grandmother
brought you as a little boy.
A man drove along the dirt lane
at the back of the site
on a tractor like the one
you drove in these fields.
We waved to one another,
as if from different times.
Later, a young man driving
a huge sit-mower came to cut
the grass where the cabin stood.
He said his name is Canary Cox
and that he too loves the blues.
You got a canary listening
to you in the home place
who agrees its cool to
cut Muddy Waters’ grass.
I’m hearing your Plantation
Recordings as the cabin door
opened into the train to Chicago,
not just nearby Memphis.
Electricity amplified your
bottleneck sound to world class.
The cypress cabin you left
behind still stands
in the Delta Blues Museum
in Clarksdale for all to enter.
You brought to the world
the sound of another mule
kicking down the dirt lane.
You carried to Chicago the memory
of the Chatman Brothers, later
the Mississippi Sheiks, jamming
in your juke joint on the Stovall
Plantation. One day you would be
sitting on top of the blues world,
but your song never forgot
where it came from, a cabin
left behind in the Delta dark.
Charley Patton at the Dockery Plantation Well
I stood alone with Charley
where the well was once full
when he lived at Dockery.
Everybody wanted to hear his song
and dance at the commissary on Saturday
when the Delta night was dark and long.
Charley’s body was small
but when he played and sang
his spirit grew big and tall.
His percussive guitar had a reach
and his singing’ and talkin’ voices
spoke as if ripped from the breach.
Charley had the boll weevil, banty rooster, rattlesnake blues.
When the little man thumped and shouted and keened
high water rose and seeped into all our dancing shoes.
The man sure did love his women
and after they danced and shook it
Charley Patton took them swimmin’.
Charley rode a mighty frisky pony
and he screamed and hollered the blues.
Never was nobody could do it like Charley.
Charley Patton crossed over to the other side.
He rambled and rode the Pea Vine Line.
His songs brought us all along for the ride.
Charley Patton passed over to the other shore
but if you listen to the songs the little man left
his heart and soul rise in you more and more.
Singing American Bird Song to My Grandson
He is tired and cranky and fussy
and I decide to speak to him
in the language of song.
Not just because he is Colombian
and German and American and
some part of him may recognize
an ancestral song, I decide to sing
the songs of American birds to him
here in southern Germany. I should
call up and sing a song I know.
I start with the who who who of
mourning doves and he stops
fussing and turns his eyes
and ears toward me. He keeps
looking at me as as if my music
sounds familiar and he wonders
how I know it and can give it back
to him. So I go with another song
I know well, the bob bob white
of the quail I also remember from
my Midwestern childhood. His eyes
open wider, as if he realizes I have
even greater powers than he knew.
Every note of either song makes
him quieter and calmer and brings
him nearer to me as I enter deeper
into the mystery and miracle he is.
You Stand There Ironing
(for Katherine, after Tillie Olsen)
As you stand there in the den ironing
elegant onesies you bought cheap
at the retail outlets on New Year’s Day
for your grandson Peyton to mail to him in a red,
white and blue Priority Mail box to Germany
where he is discovering the powers of observing
the world from the watch tower of his high chair,
you smile as if caught in your own pleasure dome
in front of the gas fireplace in our downtown
townhouse in this Midwestern city.
Behind you in a large framed photo stands
a Franconian farmer, Hans Engel, an angel
of the fields where my daylaborer ancestors
worked before emigrating to America.
Above him on a shelf stands another
framed photo of three farm women sweeping
the streets of their village clean for the weekend.
I smell the steamy heat of my mother’s iron
and hear her hum as she finds new places
to put a crease in our clothes and see your mother
stir smothered eggplant in a big iron pot
on the stove above a blue gas flame
in her Louisiana kitchen. Into these several
houses walks Tillie Olsen holding a pen to stand
with all our mothers as you stand with all our
grandchildren who will step into their freshly
pressed clothes and walk into the world just as we
fade away into the memories that live for them.
Norbert Krapf, Emeritus Prof. of English at Long Island Univ., is a former Indiana Poet Laureate and the winner of a 2014 Glick Indiana Author Award. His 26 books include the recent Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing, his 11th poetry collection. He held a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis to combine poetry and the blues, released a poetry and jazz CD with pianist-composer Monika Herzig, Imagine, and collaborates with bluesman Gordon Bonham, his guitar teacher, and poet-therapist-harpist Liza Hyatt, with whom he co-presents the workshop Mining the Dark for Healing Gold: Writing About Difficult Relationships. For the past ten years, Norbert has lived in downtown Indianapolis.
The Judas Man in His Pajamas
One audience member yelled “Judas” at Bob Dylan as he was transitioning from folk to rock.
For punishment, the gods of rolling rock sentenced
me to scream “Free Bird” at each concert stop.
It’s a nightly dream: The organ quivers, and I start
clucking. Then the guitars scratch the air, chugging
endlessly, wings flapping everywhere. In my dream,
I wake up exhausted while in the next room
the same song bleeds through the wall, masking moans.
There must be some way out of here, but no.
It has become quite the joke how different couples
play the same song over and over while doing
the same thing at the same time every night.
Feathers fly everywhere as I am forced, once again,
to pluck the plumage off that damn bird.
In your dream, I wake up, stoned, doing the funky chicken,
and Beethoven rolling over one more time.
previously appeared in So It Goes: The Literary Journal, issue 2
Winter, 3 a.m.
Lamp outside my window, eyelids shut against the light.
A pennywhistle dream, pursed lips frozen in the night.
Feel free to seduce me. Press your tongue against
my cheek. Interrupt my sleep talk. Declarations
of fleece and wool. Blanket me with your skin.
Permit the wind to sing. The fireplace is cold,
ashes sifting on the grate. What smolders
must flame. The frost must melt. Feel me. Reduce
the iceberg on my shoulders. Thaw and steam.
What warmth we create. What warmth we bring.
No longer old. Who cares the lifeline’s length,
the scar across my palm? Falling snow. The calm.
“It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough/
You know you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love “—Robert Palmer
“Your name is Medusa,” her parents
explained, “Because at birth,
your eyes glared at the world.”
Though she loves them,
Father and Mother stand
as stately statues in the plaza.
Medusa’s husbands never
survive their honeymoons,
yet Ms. M keeps hoping.
The frequent widow sits
alone in a bar anticipating
the next pickup line.
In the parking lot, a dozen men
display rock-hard muscles.
Lovers locked in endless poses.
She once fancied a man
who promised her the moon
to hang around her neck.
He gave instead a white glass orb,
which she returned, inserted
in the socket of his stone-stubborn head.
The bar is empty; the patrons dead.
Still, Medusa waits outside
the entrance, facing the dawn,
hair writhing in the wind.
JL Kato is a native of Japan whose assimilation into American culture is so complete, he cannot use chopsticks. His poetry has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Raintown Review, So It Goes: The Literary Journal, and several other publications. His first poetry collection, Shadows Set in Concrete, explores his midlife discovery of his heritage. He is a former newspaper copyeditor and lives in Beech Grove, Ind.
Diane L. Lewis-
A Poet’s Gumbo
(for Norbert Krapf, Indiana Poet Laureate 2008-2010; published in Hoosier Writers 2012: A Collection of Poetry and Fiction, Compiled and Edited by Lowell R. Torres, July 2012)
stirring up synonyms and syncopation tonight
a pinch of spoken word
a dash of ragtime
a teaspoon of salsa rhythm
a little more spoken word
until the recipe was just right
and this poet’s gumbo is cookin’
with some African beats
mixed with some chamber music
sautéed a little jazz, served over blackened blues
like my man Norbert
the poet laureate from Indiana
a super poet with mad skills
serving up a dish with
a secret ingredient
must be doin’ something right
’cause it sure smells good in his kitchen
The Art of Family
You create something that is forever.
Your art is on stage; it is who we are.
Even at your worst
you are at your best.
Our memories are sweet
chocolate covered cherries
dripping from our lips.
What you pour out leaves
no bitter aftertaste.
We are all better for the nectar
flowing freely from your heart.
It is like no other;
griot woman child
we are your story
your history, your legacy
we are your true art–
the art of family.
held together by the glue
of our accomplishments ;
celebrating and mourning together.
indeed each of us
loves you in our own way.
We are three dimensional.
We are expanded.
We are inclusive.
Our sense of Umoja
is awakened because of you.
We sow seeds of love,
from the fruit that falls from
your tall thick tree
we are planted
in the fertile soil
of your being
We belong to each other,
we form a chain that reaches
beyond what any one of us could imagine.
There are no weak links.
We learn to rely and depend on
each other by your open spirit,
your open hand.
You make us feel safe in a world
that takes and never gives.
Your Kuumba gives birth to art;
the art of family.
if it were so
if he could be born again
he would choose next time to be
a Ferris wheel, finally feeling life
surge through his aching heart
like carnivals or circuses
he would be forever adventurous
rename himself Gypsy.
he would be extravagant
with a sturdy red and orange metal frame
that climbed high above
the green-gray dappled trees.
at sunset, his lights
the coming night sky
for miles reflecting
off the motionless water in the bay beyond.
and little girls and little boys
would laugh in his arms
as he tossed them high
and far from their anxious parents
and those who felt themselves
brave would moan and cry as
he swirled the air,
creaking in their ears
fulfilling their wild waking dreams.
Diane L. Lewis is the Arts Council of Indianapolis’ 2010 Robert D. Beckmann Emerging Artist Fellow. The Beckmann Fellowship provided the author a unique opportunity to develop as a writer, with the goal of producing a full-length book of poetry. Lewis has published work in several anthologies including Reckless Writing Poetry Anthology 2013, (Chatterhouse Press), Tall Grass Writer’s Guild Anthology 2014, (Outrider Press), Flying Island Literary Journal (2014) and HiddenCharm Press (March 2015).