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Event Calendar
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readings & workshops
November 21

Offsite Talk: Native American Identity & the Politics of the Poetic Image 

readings & workshops
December 3

Ultimate Truth Poetry Reading and Book Release

readings & workshops
December 6

Heddy Keith author of Through it All

readings & workshops
December 9

Poetry Reading: Tonya M. Foster & Samiya Bashir

performances
December 10

Alternating Currents Live presents Nicole Mitchell Quartet

special events
January 27 -28

24th Annual Poetry Marathon & Benefit

Archived readings & workshops
Dec 2 Friday, December 2
10:00am, $10 | FREE for those who pledge a reader for $35 or more

Join us as we welcome John Murillo & Tyehimba Jess in a program guest curated by Nick Demske.

 

John Murillo is the author of the poetry collection, Up Jump the Boogie, finalist for both the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Pen Open Book Award. His honors include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Cave Canem Foundation, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He teaches at Hampshire College and New York University.

 

Tyehimba Jess is the author of Leadbelly, winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Olio (Wave Books, 2016) has been called "Encyclopedic, ingenious, and abundant..." by Publisher's Weekly. A Cave Canem and NYU Alumni, Jess received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a 2004-2005 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team, and won a 2000 – 2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He exhibited his poetry at the 2011 TedX Nashville Conference. Jess is Poetry and Fiction Editor of African American Review and Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island. 


 

Guest curator Nick Demske lives in Racine and is a children's librarian at the Racine Public Library.  He is the author of a self-titled book which was chosen by Joyelle McSweeney for the 2010 Fence Modern Poets Series prize.   He is also the author of a chapbook called "Skeetly Deetly Deet" (Strange Cage Press, 2012).  Nick was featured in 2011 as one of fifteen emerging poets to watch for by Poets and Writers magazine andhis book was chosen as one of the 10 Best Books of Poetry in 2010 by a Believer Magazine reader survey.  He is a member of the Racine/Kenosha Poets Laureate Commission, as well at the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission.  For the past 7 years, Nick has curated the BONK! poetry and music series in Racine, which is like winning the lottery every month.  He loves the crap out of Woodland Pattern.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Blind Boone's Vision

 

When I got old enough

I asked my mother,

to her surprise,

to tell me what she did

with my eyes. She balked

and stalled, sounding

unsure for the first time

I could remember.

It was the tender way

she held my face

and kissed where tears

should have rolled

that told me I’d asked

of her the almost impossible—

to recount my blinding

tale, to tell what became

of the rest of me.

She took me by the hand

and led me to a small

sapling that stood not

much taller than me.

I could smell the green

marrow of its promise

reaching free of the soil

like a song from Earth’s

royal, dirty mouth.

Then Mother told me

how she, newly freed,

had prayed like a slave

through the night when

the surgeon took my eyes

to save my fevered life,

then got off her knees

come morning to take

the severed parts of me

for burial—right there

beneath that small tree.

They fed the roots,

climbed through its leaves

to soak in sunlight . . .

and so, she told me,

I can see.

 

When the wind rustles

up and cools me down,

when the earth shakes

with footsteps and when

the sound of birdcalls

stirs forests like the black

and white bustling

’neath my fingertips

I am of the light and shade

of my tree. Now,

ask me how tall

that tree of mine

has grown to be

after all this time—

it touches a place

between heaven and here.

And I shudder when I hear

the earth’s wind

in my bones

through the bones

of that boxed-up

swarm of wood,

bird and bee:

I let it loose . . .

and beyond

me.

 

 

—Tyehimba Jess, from OLIO (Wave Books, 2016)

 

 

Upon Reading That Eric Dolphy Transcribed Even the Calls of Certain Species of Birds,

 

I think first of two sparrows I met when walking home,

late night years ago, in another city, not unlike this—the one

 

bird frantic, attacking I thought, the way she swooped

down, circled my head, and flailed her wings in my face;

 

how she seemed to scream each time I swung; how she

dashed back and forth between me and a blood-red Corolla

 

parked near the opposite curb; how, finally, I understood:

I spied another bird, also calling, his foot inexplicably

 

caught in the car’s closed door, beating his whole bird

body against it.  Trying, it appeared, to bang himself free.

 

And who knows how long he’d been there, flailing.  Who

knows—he and the other I mistook, at first, for a bat.

 

They called to me—something between squawk and chirp,

something between song and prayer—to do something,

 

anything.  And, like any good god, I disappeared.  Not

indifferent, exactly.  But with things to do.  And, most likely,

 

on my way home from another heartbreak.  Call it 1997,

and say I’m several thousand miles from home.  By which

 

I mean those were the days I made of everyone a love song.

By which I mean I was lonely and unrequited.  But that’s

 

not quite it either.  Truth is, I did manage to find a few

to love me, but couldn’t always love them back.  The Rasta

 

law professor.  The firefighter’s wife.  The burlesque dancer

whose daughter blackened drawings with m’s to mean

 

the sky was full of birds the day her daddy died.  I think

his widow said he drowned one morning on a fishing trip.

 

Anyway, I’m digressing.  But if you asked that night—

did I mention it was night?—why I didn’t even try

 

to jimmy the lock to spring the sparrow, I couldn’t say,

truthfully, that it had anything to do with envy, with wanting

 

a woman to plead as deeply for me as these sparrows did,

one for the other.  No.  I’d have said something, instead,

 

about the neighborhood itself, the car thief shot a block

and a half east the week before.  Or about the men

 

I came across nights prior, sweat-slicked and shirtless,

grappling in the middle of the street, the larger one’s chest

 

pressed to the back of the smaller, bruised and bleeding

both.  I know you thought this was about birds,

 

but stay with me.  I left them both in the street—

the same street where I’d leave the sparrows—the men

 

embracing and, for all one knows (especially one not

from around there), they could have been lovers—

 

the one whispering an old, old, tune into the ear

of the other—Baby, baby, don’t leave me this way.  I left

 

the men where I’d leave the sparrows and their song.

And as I walked away, I heard one of the men call to me,

 

please or help or brother or some such.  And I didn’t break

stride, not one bit.  It’s how I’ve learned to save myself.

 

Let me try this another way.  Call it 1977.  And say

I’m back west, south central Los Angeles.  My mother

 

and father at it again.  But this time in the street,

broad day light, and all the neighbors watching.  One,

 

I think his name was Sonny, runs out from his duplex

to pull my father off.  You see where I’m going with this.

 

My mother crying out, fragile as a sparrow.  Sonny

fighting my father, fragile as a sparrow.  And me,

 

years later, trying to get it all down.  As much for you—

I’m saying—as for me.  Sonny catches a left, lies flat

 

on his back, blood starting to pool and his own

wife wailing.  My mother wailing, and traffic backed,

 

now, half a block.  Horns, whistles, and soon sirens.  

1977.  Summer.  And all the trees full of birds.  Hundreds,

 

I swear.  And since I’m the one writing it, I’ll tell you

they were crying.  Which brings me back to Dolphy

 

and his transcribing.  The jazzman, I think, wanted only

to get it down pure.  To get it down exact—the animal

 

wracking itself against a car’s steel door, the animals

in the trees reporting, the animals we make of ourselves

 

and one another.  Flailing, failing.  Stay with me now.

Days after the dustup, my parents took me to the park.

 

And in this park was a pond, and in this pond were birds.

Not sparrows, but swans.  And my father spread a blanket

 

and brought from a basket some apples and a paring knife.

Summertime.  My mother wore sunglasses.  And long sleeves.

 

My father, now sober, cursed himself for leaving the radio.

But my mother forgave him, and said, as she caressed

 

the back of his hand, that we could just listen to the swans.  

And we listened.  And I watched.  Two birds coupling,

 

one beating its wings as it mounted the other.  Summer,

1977.  I listened.  And watched.  When my parents made love

 

late into that night, I covered my ears in the next room,

scanning the encyclopedia for swans.  It meant nothing to me—

 

then, at least—but did you know the collective noun

for swans is a lamentation?  And is a lamentation not

 

its own species of song?  What a woman wails, punch drunk

in the street?  Or what a widow might sing, learning her man

 

was drowned by swans?  A lamentation of them?  Imagine

the capsized boat, the panicked man, struck about the eyes,

 

nose, and mouth each time he comes up for air.  Imagine

the birds coasting away and the waters suddenly calm.

 

Either trumpet swans or mutes.  The dead man’s wife

running for help, crying to any who’d listen.  A lamentation.  

 

And a city busy saving itself.  I’m digressing, sure.  But

did you know that to digress means to stray from the flock?  

 

When I left my parents’ house, I never looked back.  By which

I mean I made like a god and disappeared.  As when I left

 

the sparrows.  And the copulating swans.  As when someday

I’ll leave this city.  Its every flailing, its every animal song.

 

 

—John Murillo  


Made possible with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts