Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Response to "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin

This is an unconventional essay, I admit. But I got bored with writing prose and wanted to switch it up for a particular assignment. This poem is a response to, or more like reflection of,  James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues. Here's a link to the short story - which I recommend reading, one to get a better understand of my response, and two, just because it's a great piece of work.

"And it started like this"

Tss tssss,
Tss tssss,
A little shimmy of snare
amongst the silence everywhere

Hovering above a midnight stage:
Tss tsss,
Tss tsss,
Lights! Lights!
Fights! Fights!
Dark, dark.

And it picked up, quick, like a Birdsong:
a little dah dah
dedah dah,
dah dah
dedah dah
Backbeats of
dummm dum
Dummm dum,
Dummm dum
dummm dum
composing themselves like fresh ice
in the backbones of the high-faced.

Lights! Lights!
A nostalgic wind up and down the chords
Brought the beat back
‘round and ‘round
‘round and ‘round
Into the chaotic drill and shrill of horns:
Bru bru bri bri,
Bruu bruu brii brii!
Du du da da du du da da!

Bbbrrruuu, bbrrruuu!
Vvrrii, vvrrii!

Shaggy snares still loping:
Familiar sounds that asked the audience questions
they heard before.
New sequences that jumbled their perception
of being.

Bang! Bang!
Crashed the drums
Thunder in between their wood and metals
A confusing spiral of horns and horse hooves
Strange ssssssserpentine rhythms stronger than themselves

Lights! Lights!
Dark. Dark.

Dark. Dark.
Dark. Dark.

Bum bum
Bum bum
Bum bum
Bum bum.

Dum dum
Dum dum
Dum dum
Dum dum.

And the sax saunters in
While the men meander
Through the darkness
Looking for that next note

Piercing the hearts with musical hope

And a lingering promise of
Salvation through his chocolate alto

Bbhhrrr brrr bhhhhrrrrrrrr,
Dur dur dur dur duh duuhhh durrr
Da da dahhh…

It wails
It whines
But never finds time
With his brother

It only smothers the harmony of the others

Rolls on the familiar tune once more
Reminders of Saturday nights
And Uncles
And Daddy’s

Mother’s with tears
And brothers with years of saddle-baggies

The sizzle of a cigarette
Meets not the Mercy, Mercy, Mercy of a clarinet
But the Chi Chi of a saxophone
And wave of brassy blues

A piano comes on live
Tinker-tankling the collective fears into oblivion
While the Moon watches
the Sun surpass his previous rises
Outlast his previous binges
And advance upon the people as if
He could light up their despair
 by simply
Pressing his Sunny digits
with sobering care.

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