Fred Joiner



the 94 was still
when he walked on

hushed heads, nodding
under the weight
of a day's work

his feet unsure
climb to his pulpit,
between the fare collector
and the driver's seat

he steadies his feet
clinches the railing
like a podium

when his feet find
their rightful place
he eyes his congregation

..............the 94 heads up Stanton

his rolling
sanctuary labors
toward Bryan Place

“Hold on!” he speaks
talks himself
out of a stumble,
still preaching his sermon
to the day's weary

he stood there, as if
waiting for his word
to take root

waiting for flames
to reveal themselves,
refusing to be
shut up in marrow.

he was speaking to me
his message did what
all good sermons do

met me at the cross
roads, moved me
beyond doubt

“Hold on!”

I try to divorce
the mess
age from the messenger
but his word
cut through me
like Sabbath sunlight

tonight his words
will conjure comfort,
softly as in a morning


in a world where calls to prayer
are interrupted by the hot wail

of breaking bones and the rhythm
of blood spilling.

i have learned to question.

what is this way of seeing, viewing
the world through a ring of brass?

what is the sound that follows sight
whole notes blown

to be a force for good…

a drone calls me at the hour of God;
the sound is like that first hit.

the high that begins the search
more inward, than interstellar

i have found that the warm space
under sheets of sound

is my sanctuary, the calm center of a whirlwind
trapped in fire-shaped brass; every whole

note is a prison for all
the suffering I have ever seen





"The only rose without a thorn is friendship"

That is a lie, dig.
Bud threw that dope
on my lap when the cops came

they put me in the belly
of blackness for 90 days,
pulled me from the womb

of the only friends
I have ever known,
Nellie and my piano

that hurt like death,
like a cat stepping
on the front of your solo key. shit,

if you ask me friendship
is a flower with the most thorns
if you doin it right.



on listening to "Yama"

She asked me what the song
did for me

“Be specific” she said

I tell her Lee Morgan
wrote this song
for someone he loved
and let get away

I try to explain to her
how the blues can be
how they can bring

I try to give words
to how a song can
crawl up inside you
and shine a light
on something
forgotten and make it
live again

for Aunt Anna, Aunt Juanita and Aunt Margaret

whenever they were in the house of the Lord

the preacher’s words
were fire syringed
into the marrow
troubled waters of the spirit
sweat and tears
boil at this temperature

and there they were
Grandma's Trio, my aunts
Anna, Juanita and Margaret
Cookin’ under the pressure
of the Word

At boiling point,
the reverend’s voice
riffed the same riff
he owned before
cloth and the collar
called him to the Lord’s side
away from plucking the Devil's box

At boiling point, my aunts, Grandma's Trio
burst into a tongue speaking chorus,
arms waving them toward flight,
Sunday’s best hair-do reclaims itself,
each follicle unshackling itself at the root,
their feet stomping a rhythm invoked
by the sound of any tongue that sounds like home.

my grandma sits, breathes deeply, moans
and inhales the steamed vapor of this frenzy,
proud of her composition,
full of Grace and Fire.



Fred Joiner is a poet living in Washington, DC's Historic Anacostia neighborhod. He works as a Systems Administrator for a small progressive consulting company. He has given poetry readings at Busboys and Poets, Grace Church, and Howard University, among other places, and his poems have appeared in Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, and Fingernails Across the Chalkboard: Poetry and Prose on HIV/AIDS from the Black Diaspora.


Published in Volume 8, Number 3, Summer 2007.


To read more by this author:
Fred Joiner: The Wartime Issue
Fred Joiner: DC Places Issue

Fred Joiner: Audio Issue