September 15, 1963
Elvin’s mallets, their meaty heads
the color of rotten cotton, assault
taut hollow skin, tense flesh melts
like sweetmeat in the cruel steady
boom of a Birmingham morning.
Tyner’s piano keens a torrent of chords
matching the drum’s steady blast,
staccato plunge into the slicing odor
and sting of sulfur cutting through
the luminous Birmingham blue.
Garrison’s bass carves a canyon
through the mix of pitched peals, speaks
the grave ache for a quartet of parents
who send their four daughters to church
this sunny Birmingham Sunday.
Coltrane’s sax seizes its call as the skin
responds. Keys explode in weary wails.
Roars roll – the rumble tumble of four
dark bodies blown head over head, sounds
spread thick through the Birmingham sky.
My cry, insistent as the quartet’s elegy
for Carol Denise almost twelve as I am,
Cynthia, Addie Mae and Carole, already
fourteen. Alabama, urgent as the frenzied
aftermath, its music burning Birmingham.
Linda Susan Jackson
Poem, copyright © 2006 by Linda Susan Jackson
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse