Friday, May 19, 2017

Joan Dobbie and Elizabeth Bruce

The picture above is from Cambridge (Central Square?), not Eugene, OR, but I thought that it would fit Joan Dobbie's first piece.

It's good to be back.  After a tough semester, I am starting The Song Is... up again with some  pieces on not driving by Joan Dobbie and Elizabeth Bruce.  The fall/winter/spring contests continue!

Joan Dobbie

I used to fly in my dreams. That's how I knew I was dreaming. If I wasn't quite sure, I'd flap my wings (arms) and lift off. Mostly I didn't fly too awfully high, but sometimes I did. I flew up to the tops of the trees. Sometimes really tall trees, almost as high as the clouds.

In 2013, in my regular life, I realized that my periferal vision was bad, not good enough anyhow. I decided to stop driving.

From then on to now, I bike and I bus.

Biking is still sort of magic for me, gliding up over the earth. I feel like I'm flying. I could well be dreaming.

The other night, as often, I wasn't quite sure if I was or I wasn't. I jumped high as I could, flapping my arms, and, THUD, landed flat on my feet. "OMIGOD," I thought, "I'm really awake!" That's what I thought. And then I woke up.

My interpretation: Now that I fly in my everyday life, my brain doesn't quite know how to handle it. "Must be she can't when she's sleeping," it thinks.

My advice: If you want to fly high in your everyday life, get rid of your car. Trade it in for a bike.

copyright 2016, Joan Dobbie

What it is to be moral
(With Thanks to Nicole Taylor whose bus conversation poems inspired me to listen)

The young lady clearly had an extra chromosome
and all the sweetness that often goes with that

Beside her, an almost handsome young
guy, his speech only slightly impaired

They knew each other well, probably from school.

(The bus pulled to a stop and another couple boarded, she holding a bundled blue blanket to her breast, he, folding up the stroller, tucking it under their seat)

"I wish I had a baby,"
the words were spoken softly, but clearly.

He reached over, tenderly touching
her cheek with the back of his hand

"I could give you one," he said
and she froze. "Don't you touch me! Ever!"

He drew back."You are engaged to
be married. Daniella is my very best
friend. Don't you ever touch me again."

"I'm sorry," he said, again,



as if there were no other words
in all the world.

"Daniela would be jealous," she repeated,
tears rimming her small hooded eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said, turning away, she looking
down at the floor, me

out the window

Copyright Joan Dobbie 10/16

Elizabeth Bruce sent me one of her "one dollar" stories, which I am posting below.  


Originally Published in Firewords Quarterly (Issue 6)

in the United Kingdom in 2016

“One dollar!  Woo hoo!”  She shouted up the basement steps. “Honey, I found an extra dollar in your jeans’ pocket. Another dollar, darlin’, for the kitty. That’s good news, isn’t it?”
“Oh my, and look at this,” she added, pulling a handful of coins out of another pair of jeans, covered in dust from the quarry. “Another 75-cents in your other pants. Why this is a happy day! Seaside vacation here we come!” She slipped the dollar bill and coins into the pocket of her apron and turned back to the washing machine.
She held the rumbled dungarees in both hands and looked up the stairway past the bare light bulb hanging down and waited though no reply came, only the garbled drone of Monday night football playing on the TV in the living room.
She turned back to the laundry and after a moment footsteps clunked across the kitchen floor above. The refrigerator door opened and closed quickly, and the cushing sound of a beer can opening wafted down the stairs.
She stopped and listened to the rattle of his key chain clipped onto his belt loop.
“Baby,” she called quickly, the quiver in her voice swaddled in the sweetness she’d been known for, the sing songy uplift he’d once adored. “Want me to make you some nachos, darlin’?” 
“I got some of that new picante sauce you like so much. Why, folks say it makes homemade nachos just as good as the ones at Los Lobos.”
She twisted the ruffle of the apron she wore constantly these days it seemed, stretched tighter now across her midriff softer and wider as it was like the other wives, the ones with babies in tow though no baby tugged at her bosom after all, cranky for want of mother’s milk. She’d have been the one to do it too, nurse her baby the old fashioned way, like their grandmas and great-grannies had done, low-class and nasty though the girls today said it was, and swore they’d rather die than sink so low. Never you mind, she’d told the other gals before her baby’d come, then gone, so tiny and weak and early. Never you mind, she’d said to him as well, though in her heart she knew he hadn’t been ready either for a baby or a wife or the life she’d tried to make for them and wanted still to have.
“So, why don’t you just settle in and let me make you some good ole nachos?” she shouted up the steps, picking up another bundle of dirty clothes.
“Why, they say it’s going to rain tonight anyway, and you know those tires are so bald, they’re ‘bout to burst. Ain’t no good in the rain, honey. You said that yourself why just last week. And Lord knows, if anyone knows best ‘bout cars it’s you, sugar.”
She held up a white t-shirt, found a spot of grease, a Big Mac dribble maybe or chicken fries, and poured extra detergent on it, rubbing it together like her mother used to.
            “No sir, no good in the rain at all. Just think what a hardship it’d be having that old jalopy go crashing into one of them big oak trees down close to town. Why, where’d we be then, without a truck or money enough to fix it? I know how that pains you, darlin’, having things go wrong like that. Why, you need your rest, sweetheart. You work too hard to be burdened with troubles like that. Yes siree, you deserve better, husband, much, much better than a smashed up pick-up and being stuck out her in the middle of nowhere with just stupid old me for company.”
She paused and tilted her ear toward the stairway, cradling a new bundle of dirty clothes like the sleeping child they’d never had. The television rumbled on. She lifted a dingy undershirt from the pile and breathed in its acrid odor. One-by-one she peeled clothes from the pile, checked the pockets and tossed them into the washer: his Tennessee Titans t-shirt, the dress shirt he wore to church, plaid boxers, cotton socks, dungarees, pushing them all into the same jumbo load, whites and colors together until only his Sunday trousers were left.
“Why if we use the kitty we’re getting close to having all the money for some brand new tires, so you won’t have to give it another thought,” she said, pressing the trousers to her chest and waiting, waiting for a response that didn’t come, again.
She sighed and held the pants out before her as she had the dungarees and searched the pockets one by one. A half pack of gum, a gas receipt, crumpled tissue, three pennies, one dime, a nickel, and there in the front left pocket, a bundle of dollar bills. She smiled and glanced up the stairs, holding the dollar bills in one hand, her mouth already open and ready to shout out the good news.
But then she stopped. She looked again at the folded bills and peeled them back slowly like lettuce leaves and there, nestled beneath the dollars was a single condom, its silver foil unbroken.
She stopped, her arm bent, the crinkling packet perched inside the green bills in her hand. For a long time, she looked at it, its shiny package a perfect square like a York Peppermint Patty.
Then, silently, she slid the packet back inside the bills and started to put it into her apron pocket with the other loose change.
But then she stopped and looked around the basement, at the shelves full of paint cans and yard tools. She crossed over to a group of boxes stacked against the wall, and opened one labeled “Christmas.” She dug around inside and pulled out an old Christmas cookie tin. Holding the metal box between her knees she pried the lid off and slipped the bundle of bills inside. She started to press the top back on, but then stopped and scooped the extra dollar and jumble of coins from her apron pocket and dropped them into the tin as well. The coins rattled and she quickly closed the metal box.
Glancing up the steps, she slid the cookie tin far back onto the laundry shelf behind the spot remover and fabric softener. Pausing, she flopped her bag of rags over the tin and turned back to the laundry. She scooped out a ladle of detergent and sprinkled it slowly over the wash. She turned the washer level to jumbo and pushed the hot/warm button and the machine came alive before her, a cascade of clean warming water rushing over his dirty clothes.
“No, siree,” she said, to the open washer, her voice rising ever so slightly. “Not one more worried thought ‘bout them tires. A body can just drive, and drive and drive without a care in the world once them tires are fixed. Now, won’t that be nice? Won’t that be worth all the one dollars in the world?”

I'll finish up with a little music.  

Let's start with Melba Liston's "Insomnia":
I think that she may be playing trombone on Randy Weston's "1st Movement: Uhuru Kwanza (Part Two)":
Here is Randy Weston's "The Healers":
I'll finish with his "African Cookbook":

Let's do this more often!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Non-Drivers and Nina Simone...A Tale of Two Contests

Tonight Catfish McDaris enters the non-driving contest with three poems.  The first is set in Clovis, New Mexico.

The Shoe Leather Express

Nobody walked in my hometown,
Clovis, New Mexico, cars were for
making love and getting wasted in or
seeing what was over the next horizon

At 14, I bought a 57 Chevy station wagon,
I tricked it out with curtains and funky
carpeting, it cost $175, I couldn’t get my
license until I was 15, so I parked a few

Blocks from school, driving down Main
a few months after I got my license, a lady
rear ended me, I let her give me a ride all
summer and I used the shoe leather express.

An Oklahoma Credit Card

My second car was a 55 Chevy, 4 door,
it had some power, I traded it for a grape
Ford, I put a tequila bottle under the hood
where the windshield washer was located

I had the new hose emerge in the glovebox,
you pressed a button and got a shot of cacti,
I had a Mercury, Buick, and Pontiac and
learned how to work on all of them

Buying gasoline was usually a problem, I
became skillful with a siphoning hose, also
known as an Oklahoma credit card, I’d like
to repay all the people I stole gas from

I no longer drive, I take the bus or walk,
Karma came late to me, taking away my
driving privileges, my lady drives me mostly,

in case of emergency I can drive anything.

Photo by Daniel Hu

Bus Stop Blues

Blowing cold breath cloud rings
waiting on the 18 to head east
toward Lake Michigan, it was
brisk and frisky, in front of Taco

Bell and a gas station, I spoke
Spanish to myself to try and think
of a distraction from the cold,
the silence was welcome, I knew

I’d be in noise for the rest of the day,
a loud car with no muffler slowed
down, a kid yelled something, I just
smiled, he circled the block

“Hey old man, if you weren’t so poor,
you wouldn’t be riding the bus,” I thought
maybe he’s right, the bus drove by his
car in flames, I waved with one finger.

Artwork by Compose4U/JK Zeewolde

Having entered the non-driving contest, Bill Cushing is entering...or re-entering  the contest for poems and prose inspired by jazz musicians born in the 1930s.  


Transforming us with blues, boogie-woogie,
using training in classics to quash rage,         
she dug into our souls, tore open hearts, exposed our psyche.
Before King’s dream, she mounted battles onstage
from Harlem to Carnegie, leaving beloved Bach behind,
she battered walls of injustice, rattled abusers’ cages, yet
allowed herself to be battered, her sanity strewn.
Nina, a Harlem Renaissance soul out of time,
whose good intentions drown in madness and regret,
infused righteous power into every tune.

I'd also like to add one of my non-driving poems.  Of course, most of my poems fit into that category (although not all do).

Once She Was a Subway Flyer*

when Addison Road was the end of the line.
Beyond here there were only buses
the C29 down the highway
past strip malls, past farm stands,
past the DMV and the gas station,
to the front door of the college.

Then she was a moon-faced girl
in black among the masked faces,
her students coming from work,
the stout security guards,
and the boys to men
with blank white shirts
and shorts past their knees.

 That was nearly ten years ago.
She looks like her mother now,
tightening a gunmetal belt
over a navy cardigan.
She walks to work.

Someday she might come back
to see what this place has become:
the new town center, the stores,
the station
a village green with 
Kenny the mayor on Foursquare,
Addison Road,
no longer the end of the line.
·         A “freeway flyer” is a name for an adjunct instructor who teaches at more than one college.  A “subway flyer” would be one who, without a car, commutes via public transportation.

Let's add some music, starting with Nina Simone.

Here is her song "Go to Hell" from 1969:

I will add "Mississippi Goddamn":

I'll finish with a couple more songs.  The first is "Ain't Got No, I Got Life":

I saw that she has covered "To Love Somebody," a song that Janis Joplin covered as well, so I'm posting it:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Claudine Nash and Lynne S. Viti

A while back Claudine Nash sent me two poems from her recent book Parts per Trillion.  I hope that you will enjoy them!   "Permission Slip" is especially appropriate during this hectic spring semester.

"Permission Slip"

Today I permit myself to
forget what I know of gravity,
to awaken inattentive to mass
and weight and feel no force
other than the speed of promise.
I will allow this sensation to
propel me upwards with such
velocity that liftoff will
shake my doubtful features
unrecognizable to the side
of me that seeks to reunite
my bones with Earth.

I wish to remain airborne
as long as possible.  I grant
myself  permission to stuff
my ears with wind and answer
only to my truest name,  to snub
the voices that shout out the
physics and trajectories of me,
that scold “you get down this
very instant,  this place is a mess
and soaring time is over.”

(First appeared in Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine)

“Certain Words”

There are certain words you
would wait a lifetime to hear.
Like, “you didn’t ruin a
thing,” or “the ground between
us never turned to dust.”
Better still, “look, here’s a

stack of old envelopes
made out to you” and upon
inspecting their odd postmarks
and stamps, feel love leak
from their folds or read

scribbled between the lines of
the onionskin sheets within,
the explanation you’ve always
wanted interwoven with
the phrase “You were only
briefly forgotten.”

But mostly, you would
forfeit the scent of oncoming
rain or abandon the sight of
the swollen red moon just
to be told, “Please listen now,
there’s something I’m ready
to say.”

First appeared in The Problem with Loving Ghosts (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

Claudine Nash’s collections include her full-length poetry book Parts per Trillion (Aldrich Press, 2016) and her chapbook The Problem with Loving Ghosts  (Finishing Line Press, 2014). She also recently edited the collection  In So Many Words: Interviews and Poetry from Today’s Poets (Madness Muse Press, 2016) with Adam Levon Brown.  Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies including Asimov’s Science Fiction, Cloudbank, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and Yellow Chair Review amongst others. She is also
a practicing psychologist. Website:

Recently Lynne S. Viti (who served as a judge for the summer/fall 2016 contest) published a chapbook, Baltimore Girls, with Finishing Line Press.   I am thrilled to publish Sam Cornish's review here.

Baltimore Girls

Baltimore Girls is a brief collection of poems that examines the poet’s early life in the 1960s and the culture in which she grew up. It is personal history -- tales of a small group of young women who lived in the segregated city of my youth. The poems are mini-memoirs, snapshots of young women who had determined they were bound for greater things: “we were in a hurry to get out of town, out of state, through school, to a job...”

Although Viti tells us she “left as fast as she could,” her memories of people, places and her hometown culture remain vivid and sharp, filled with the manners and rituals of the era. She recounts a teen-age date as“a talisman of my life to come” because they spent the time talking “about the war, about Yeats...” This collection is significant for its realism, its honesty and its attention to detail. The poems are specific and descriptive, reminiscent of the lyric realism of James T. Farrell. This book establishes Viti as a poet of the memoir and local history. Her memories of time and place will resonate with many readers.

— Sam Cornish

If you'd like to read some of Lynne's poems, here is a link to some I published in August 2015:

To buy her wonderful book (which I encourage),  email Lynne at for pricing details and to place an order. Proceeds will go to support Mercy High School Baltimore scholarship funds.

Lynne also added the following about an upcoming reading:  "I'm reading at Bird in Hand Books & Coffee on November 7, 2017 at 7 PM, in the Readings with Ralphie series. 11 E 33rd St, Baltimore, MD 21218."

Please spread the word!!!

Now for tonight's music.  I think I'll start with another song by Larry Young from an earlier album.  His "Of Love and Peace" does sound like flight:

Here is his version of "Seven Steps to Heaven":

I'll finish with his "Plaza del Toros," which is a little more conventional and bouncy:  Grant Green plays on it as well.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


This evening I would like to post some rengay, a collaborative form of poetry, that Leslie McKay sent me a while back.  I hope that those of you who know and love this form will also enjoy these pieces.  Those of you who are just learning about rengay are in for a treat.  I am also really pleased that Leslie included some jazz rengay, too!


between a laugh and a sigh
sonic threads
pollinate the mother tree

off rides the current
slides under the bedroom door

exhilarating chords
heard late and early
making the leap

moss on the ground
boomed syncopation
intricate spiderweb

black panthers' sure moves
long incantations

harmonic heights
silver scales leaping
shatter stars

-- Ingrid Bruck and Leslie McKay

Wild Air

murmurs tease
suddenly the air is wild
roaring and incendiary

isolation moves
giddy giraffe gait

singing alone
africas catwalk model
kills with her sensual gravity

chez papa's pumping
the back streets of paris
open mike night

satchmo louder than the world
on Saturday night

sister jazz
twisting our butts
to Gunhild Carling
on the bagpipes

-- Leslie McKay and Benita Kape

Rare Among Them

renders a breakneck solo
Tranes altered chords
in quest of magic

danger alley
woman floats above cacophony

rare among them, Alice
harpist, pianist, composer
band leader

the rhythm subconscious

supreme scat team John and Cleo
both sides of the ditch

front row seats
gliding on an undercurrent
maintaining cool

-- Leslie McKay and Benita Kape

Chain Reaction

deep indigo valley
sultry saxophones riff
around my honey bees

the tui mimics my tune

west coast salvation
fluid notes in every cup
back east was hunger

exploring new terrain
wind twangs the fence wires
stretching harmonies

a chain reaction to fiery bop

between velocity
and spare sounds
the jazz of a twilight sky
-- Benita Kape and Leslie McKay

For more information about the rengay, see this link:

I had no idea that this poem was a relatively new Americanized form!

Onto the music.  Although Bennie Maupin was not born in the 1930s, I'd like to include some of his music since it fits into what I've been listening to lately.  I learned about him from YouTube and the recent documentary about Lee Morgan.

Here is Maupin's "Ensenada":

Maupin wrote "Neophilia," and this version was on Lee Morgan's Live at the Lighthouse:

I'm going to move on to Alice Coltrane's "Blue Nile":  It is from an album that she did with Pharoah Sanders and others.

Dorothy Ashby's "Joyful Grass and Grape" includes the koto:

I'll finish with Roy Brooks' "The Free Slave," which is part of a live album.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Celebrate the End of Midterms with Nicole Surginer and Carl Scharwath

Tonight I'd like to return to the blog-zine with Nicole Surginer's poems and Carl Scharwath's photographs.

Arches of Sappho

Arched landscapes painted
in prizmed realities.
Beauty locked in the
clutches of paralyzed time.
Frozen to infinity,
a hostage held
by  primeval machine.
An eternity lost
to a faltering compass.
Though bound in chains,
tethered to a heart
ingrained in stone;
Her spirit drifts
in shifting river flow.
Capsizing between shores
of penance and rage.
A timeless tale weaving wind,
fluttering paper doll wings
as words dance
from a faded page.
Shifting time as clouds glide
entranced by the arches.
Love captive in mourning
an ending she cannot accept.


I hold my silence in your distance
that you may live peace
In this place devoid of life,
where emptiness leeches
the color from my world, I linger.
Having failed to purge you from my
Blood, the plague of loneliness
pulses a cold I cannot shake.
My heart, shackled to your eternity
sees you in every stillness.
Your face in the beams of an
 early morning moon.
Hears your voice in the song
of a whispering wind.
Your heartbeat in the flutter
of dragonfly wings.
 She searches in endless frenzy,
 thirsting your taste in the fog.
Then in the dread of night,
she seeks you in my dreams.
A lifetime of full moons
and starless skies spent
 captive to her restless pull.
I am wearied from her plight.
For an empty heart is heavier
than a pillar of stone.

 I am trying to find some songs for this evening.  Before midterms I was listening to some intriguing lost albums from the 1960s and 1970s.  

I've found Charlie Rouse's "Bitchin'" from 1974:

This links to Ahmed Abdullah's entire album Life's Force.  However, I think it will be well worth the listen!

Back to grading tomorrow!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Bill Cushing on Not Driving and Words & Images by Kerfe Roig

When Bill Cushing sent me his essay on not driving in Puerto Rico, I said that I would save it until we really needed it with all the winter weather.  I didn't realize that I would be publishing Bill's essay on March 10!

Bill Cushing

I hail from New York City, which is famous for aggressive drivers, but I’ve also lived in Virginia, Maryland, and Florida long enough to have come to understand driving conditions in those places. I’m now in Los Angeles, so perhaps the less said about driving, the better. Like every other major city, Angelino drivers have their own “idiosyncrasies,” some maddening. For instance, while New Yorkers approach driving as a sort of high-speed version of “almost” bumper cars consisting of near misses and acrobatic lane-changes, L. A. drivers have a problem with anyone being in front of them—even if such a move makes sense.
Still, whenever the topic of lousy driving comes up—as it does, my reply stays consistent: “No matter how bad it is here, it’s worse in Puerto Rico.”
I spent three years on the island but foreswore driving pretty quickly. First, I really didn’t need to, living close enough to work to walk or ride a bike. Moreover, the island’s publico transit system works pretty well for getting about as long as one isn’t in a hurry, which nobody there ever is. Puerto Rico is one place where the maƱana attitude thrives; I believe the national motto must be “tranquillo.” In fact, I quickly came to the notion that if watches weren’t jewelry, Puerto Ricans would have no practical reason to wear one.
Getting back to the issue of driving—or more specifically NOT driving, I decided to forego the practice for two reasons: to keep my sanity and to avoid psychosis.
Puerto Ricans drive as if immortal; I saw acts defying reason, sense, and sanity, for example watching one guy drive down a main street backwards for almost a mile—on a main road no less. Then there was the morning I saw somebody on the shoulder of an expressway, this butt sticking out in the potential path of oncoming traffic, shuffling paperwork in the backseat—all while only 20 feet from the relative safety of an exit off ramp.
I even watched police cars pull stunts that made me think, “You know, that has got to be against some law—if not a municipal one, at least one of common sense.”
Of course, that attribute (common sense, that is) is rarely prevalent on the road anywhere, so it makes sense that it was lacking here, but it was so absent that I decided that driving was something I didn’t need to bother with, and after about three months, the only time I drove was when it was absolutely needed—such as moving or entertaining visitors. Otherwise, I got along nicely without having to use that option.
Once, after declining to drive, my father-in-law told me that I had to drive.
“Oh,” I replied, “I need to be a homicidal maniac, do I? No thanks.”
Still, I did put up with all the maddening circumstances and drove until the day I actually beat my neighbor to work by walking. That became the deciding factor. Later, a coworker, hearing I had given up cars, asked, “Don’t you know how to drive here?”
“Of course I do,” I replied. “You close your eyes, jam on the gas, randomly twist the wheel, and honk the horn constantly. I just choose not to.”
One of my favorite conversations took place when my wife’s son would tease me, as a gringo, for not being able to dance. It became something of a mantra: white guys have no sense of rhythm and can’t dance very well. I took it in stride, but then I saw a real opening for a parry. After months on the island, I asked him, “David, since you guys are so good at dancing, how come you can’t seem to friggin’ drive? It’s pretty much the same thing.”
He had no comeback for that.

And I continued to not drive.

I'll follow Bill's essay with some new words and images by Kerfe Roig.  She is currently a non-driver as she lives in New York City, but her poem is inspired by Nina Simone.

Wild wind and dancing stories (a shovel poem for Nina Simone)

Unlimited, let
spiral breath entangle me,
let my essence fly
in levitation, away,
fiercely overflowing with
the fullness of you.

For who, what, are we?
a sum or a mixture?  Are
wings born of creatures
dancing?  Or patched from parts of
stories left hanging in the
fragments of the wind?

Come ride on the wind
of turning.  The current is
opening toward the
threshold of desire.  The wind
hears our confession.  Air:  so
foolish, hungry, wild.

end phrases taken from “Wild is the Wind” by Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin

I'll start with Nina Simone's version of "Wild is the Wind":

I've been listening to a lot of Larry Young lately.  He happens to be one of the many jazz musicians born in the 1930s.  Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but his album Lawrence of Newark is as timely as ever.

"Sunshine Fly Away" opens the album:

The next cut is "Khalid of Space Part Two -- Welcome":

"Alive" features James Blood Ulmer who has performed in Montgomery County recently:

I'll finish with "Hello Your Quietness (Islands)":

Did you hear the cello in some of the songs?