SPLIT THIS ROCK: Poems of Provocation & Witness

Joel Dias-Porter



The text for today is early Miles, the Columbia years . . .
That tone pared down to essentials.

—Sekou Sundiata

"Did Miles mute his horn, because
a breeze might carry kites a gust could mutilate?"
Call him poet, professor. Call me shaky grasper of the chisel,
caught up in a run-on rush to hammer it all, loudly, now.
The memory rushes in, white-capped and frothing like a wave
but recedes slowly as a blue crab on freshly wet sand,
bright bits of one's life clasped tight in its claws.

Finally, finally, I come to believe in loss as a way of knowing.

How long does it take to hear what the silence is saying?
I stand at a stoplight, waiting for the colors to change.
At forty-five one has to deal with muscles and eyesight fading.
Not just fading like blue from the knees of your favorite jeans
or lights on a stage holding only a now silent microphone,
but fading like a goateed poet in a stingy brim hat
covering the bets of a hooded man with unholy holes for eyes
and the curved blades of scythes where his fingernails should be.

Finally, finally, I come to believe in loss as a way of knowing.

If the Blues is a river, doesn't it both carry in and wash away?
LEDs are replacing halogen and incandescent lamps
and now the headlights of some approaching cars are slightly blue,
as I hear his velvet tone join the voices of all my fallen fathers,
and tremble, ever so softly, like a kite in a breeze
or the reed in a Harmon mute during a note's last linger.

Finally, finally . . . I come to believe in loss as a way of knowing.



(For Gordon Parks and Ali Farka Touré)

Tell me once again, how the learning tree grows,
Do its roots burrow all the way to Timbuktu,
If its leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Malcolm X in his fury, “The Greatest” in repose,
Even beggars in Paris your eye did not refuse.
Tell me once again how the learning tree grows.

The source of the Sahara was a river you composed,
In the heart of the moon flows a branch of brilliant blues.
Do its leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Now your limbs sag with the weight of many snows,
Still your shutter sings on with moonlight as its muse,
Tell me once again how the learning tree grows.

Baobab, your gray bark nurtured poetry and prose.
Niafunké was wailing when your falling broke the news.
Do your leaves shade both lensmen and griots?

Black and shining are the feathers of a thousand crows
Who alight and fill the sky with their darkening news.
They show us where the roots of the learning tree go,
If its leaves shade both lensmen and griots.



Joel Dias Porter (aka DJ Renegade) was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. He served in the US Air Force, and after leaving the service, he became a professional DJ in the DC area. Then in 1991, he quit his job and began living in homeless shelters, while undergoing an Afrocentric self-study program. From 1994 through 1999 he competed in the National Poetry Slam, finishing as high as second place in the individual competition, and was the 1998 and 1999 Haiku Slam Champion. Places his poems have been published include Time Magazine, The Washington Post, Callaloo, Antioch Review, Red Brick Review, and the anthologies Meow: Spoken Word from the Black Cat, Short Fuse, Role Call, Def Poetry Jam, 360 Degrees of Black Poetry, Slam (The Book), Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapallooza, Poetry Nation, Beyond the Frontier, and Catch a Fire. He also edited and did layout for The Black Rooster Social Inn, an anthology of poems and photos of visual art. In 1995, he received the Furious Flower "Emerging Poet Award" from James Madison University. Places he has performed include the Today Show, in the documentary SlamNation, on BET, and in the feature film Slam. The father of a young son, he has a CD of jazz and poetry on Black Magi Music, entitled LibationSong.

Published in Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2008.

Read more by this author:
Joel Dias-Porter (aka DJ Renegade)
Joel Dias-Porter: Audio Issue
Joel Dias-Porter: It's Your Mug Anniversary Issue