Brian Gilmore


poem for duke ellington & the duke ellington orchestra

(for bubber miley)

james miley
playing plumber
unclogging drains
turning his trumpet into
a toilet
his blowing into a bordello
he some low down
dirty mean old mamie smith
hound dog
gut bucket blues shouts,
we was a polite dance band
until bubber got us drunk
with the dismals,
with a groove that gangsters
might like, with some conjuring
like king oliver,
with a message
that moans, groans and
testifies with a wah wah
wah wah east st. louis
black and tan,
black beauty,
black and white keys on a
black baby grand behind him
blasting out hot and bothered hop heads
that bloom blue bubbles
and birmingham breakdowns
doing the voom voom
and wobbling all the
way to washington
and if you need a
creole love call
the best drain man in town
can stomp out your troubles
or make you dance the night away
with just a plunger...


san juan
(for juan tizol)

......................- conga brava -

under the dark of night
looking out over the big ocean
from the great island of
puerto rico
one can see a moon
shining bright over

a young neatly dressed
man wears a smile as bright as
ten million stars
stands proudly in the light of
the moon playing exotic melodies
on his valve trombone

behind him a conga player
keeps a rhythm
that can be heard all over
the world

all night the young man
plays until women
men children get up
and dance in a line
that is long enough to
circle the earth ten thousand

under the light of the moon
the young man can be heard
some nights playing his trombone
on the streets of new orleans
down in storyville
a crowd follows him out a
club as he blows his horn
into the gulf of mexico

everyone does a jesus over water
reaches san juan and begins dancing
in the streets to a song
that cannot end

under the light of the moon
the young neatly dressed man
frowns as he plays some of
his favorite songs in blackface
he smiles hesitantly
while people all over the world
marvel as he
does not miss any

under the dark of night
last night i walked
downtown to
the howard theatre
saw the young neatly dressed man
all alone in the orchestra pit
playing a middle eastern
melody more beautiful than all the
blue skies the earth has ever known

his valve trombone was heard
out from the city
down south to new orleans over
the gulf of mexico into
the streets of san juan
where everyone was dancing
to this wonderful song
looking out
over the ocean
at the moon that
glowed bright



Sanjoy Das
The Flying Rock II
oil on canvas, 40" x 50"

see more of Sanjoy Das's work





(for ben webster)

he writes
'swing like prez'
in the margin of
the sheet music

lays there
on a vine

moves side to side
with the wind

rug cuts high above
the clouds

flies over kansas city

looks down on
bennie moten
jimmy rushing
big joe turner
mary lou williams

pours his heart out
like cold beer

joins the
greatest show on earth

grabs gershwin by the throat
turns him into a rhythm god
fills that horn up with scotch
and brandy every night

drenches the crowd with a special
hot mix him the rooster

crowing mean and mellow
the good and the bad
a two faced virtuoso

ask him
how does it feel to
have your heart turned into
cracker crumbs?
throw the
woman you love
out of a window
at the dunbar hotel
in los angeles?
drive into
the rio grande and save
lester young from drowning?

beautiful sometimes is the brute
a sound wrapped in a blanket

rooster ben hugging the blues
like a lady

beside rabbits

a mean old world
he holding onto
sax solos oftentimes
knife fights

sip red wine
sit down
play piano like fats waller

remember how your name was
called on 'cottontail'
for the very first time

step forward with a chest full
of stories

pistol in one hand
roses in the other

seek water to dive into
where the waves are tough
and tender

save us all from drowning.


sweet pea
(for billy strayhorn)

like the rickets
that bowed your legs
as a child
you don't follow
life's straight line

your path littered with
tangents you tackle with

angry alcoholic father.

poor pittsburgh streets.

men who call you sissy.

you escape into piano
inspire a city
with fancy shows
set to a
'fantastic rhythm.'

the famous bandleader becomes
your father
hustles you out of
hillsborough on a
harlem bound hymnal
you stare into his eyes
see vision that changed the world
watch his hands move
like a farmer tilling land

you've always belonged on this soil
memorized its harvest style
create your own way
of making things grow.

the crops are more
plentiful now:

.........passion flowers.

only you could produce such sweet thunder.

yet, doleful dirges govern your time
mournful symphonies
ballads that bleed
songs soured by detachment
the bandleader is always there

with a shadow that
shelters your world like
a seashell

you are fugitive from the
world here

still in search of applause
that will stop the roar inside your head

international phone calls test your talent
the man who towers over most
asks you over and over to help him
paint the world

you scribble out segments of these
singular suites
admired moments where
he must tell the world
of your genius

while you hide in dark corners
always full of grog
living the lush life
a mist in the night
soon to be blown away
by a strong wind
before most had a chance
to see you float across the sky...


(for Amiri Baraka)

maybe ants are too deliberate.
.........................too conformist.
.........................too obedient.
.........................too organized.

and maybe ants are too much like the
...............too much like
...............those guys in
...............orwell's 1984
...............under the rule

.............police. (God forbid that.)

and maybe, just maybe
ants are too un-american,
because can't eat steak everyday
.............if you constantly think of
.............all the others.

when i was younger,
i would marvel at their order,
how they collected crackers
how they re-built their destroyed homes
after young "uncivilized" maniacs
stepped on their civilization
for cheap laughs.

but still,
ants just seem too refined
seem too unalarmed,
too civilized.

then again,
i haven't ever seen an ant
beg for money or sleep on
a heat grate.


Brian Gilmore was born and raised in Washington, DC. He is the author of two books of poetry, Elvis Presley is Alive and Well and Living in Harlem (Third World Press, 1993), and Jungle Nights & Soda Fountain Rags (Karibu Books, 1999). His poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies and he has taught poetry at the Catholic University of America and at Lorton Prison. He is currently Legislative Counsel at the City Council for the District of Columbia.

Published in Volume 2, Number 2, Spring 2001.


Read more by this author:
Brian Gilmore's Introduction to Vol, 2, No. 4 (Fall 2001)
Gilmore's Tribute to Waring Cuney: The Memorial Issue
Brian Gilmore: DC Places Issue
Brian Gilmore: Evolving City Issue

Brian Gilmore: Split This Rock Issue
Brian Gilmore: Audio Issue
Brian Gilmore: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue
Brian Gilmore: Tenth Anniversary Issue
Brian Gilmore on Drum & Spear Bookstore: Literary Organizations Issue
Brian Gilmore: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue
Brian Gilmore on May Miller: Poetic Ancestors Issue