DC PLACES ISSUE

Thomas Sayers Ellis

 

TAMBOURINE TOMMY

More man
Than myth, more myth
Than freak, he would come out
Between bands

In a harness of bells
And high-waters
Held together and up
By a belt of rope.

His skin was thick
As friendship, his spot-lit scalp
Clean as the repaired dome
Of the U.S. Capitol.

Rickety raw
And rickety strong,
He'd run from Barry Farms
To Mount Vernon

With bricks
Borrowed from the wall
Around St. Elizabeth's Hospital
In each hand.

There was struggle
In his dance,
Like first-of-the-month
Or Election Day downtown.

His arms tried to
Free Terrance Johnson,
His trickster legs
Rayful Edmond

But such drama
Never made him more
Than spectacle or more
Than beast.

No one thought
Of him as artist,
No one thought
Of him as activist.

His craft, the way
He beat himself
(head, shoulders, knees
and toes), proved he

Was one of us,
A soul searcher
Born and raised
In the District,

Proved he
Could reach in,
Blend, ease before entering,
Proved he

Was our phoenix,
Nobody's Stonestreet,
Part hustler, part athlete,
Tougher than all of Southeast.

 

Thomas Sayers Ellis was born and raised in Washington, DC.  He cofounded The Dark Room Collective and received his MFA from Brown University in 1995.  He is the author of three books: The Good Junk (part of Take Three: I, Graywolf Press, 1996), The Genuine Negro Hero (Kent State University Press, 2001), and The Maverick Room (Graywolf Press, 2005).  He coedited On the Verge: Emerging Poets and Artists (Faber & Faber, 1993), and is a contributing editor of Callaloo.  He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and the Lesley University low-residency MFA program.

 

Published in Volume 7, Number 3, Summer 2006.

 

Read more by this author:
Thomas Sayers Ellis: Audio Issue
Thomas Sayers Ellis: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue
Thomas Sayers Ellis: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue