(Read the notes below first for background.)
Black Orpheus sings Grand Boulevard songs;
born in Brewster
raised in Douglass.
heard Stevie's piano;
saw Diana do double-dutch;
started doing back-up and snap;
now he writes the hits.
This August day was witch-like - unspoken hex -
so he stopped
wondered what was up,
like his grandfather called Schoolboy
who working on the farm one day stopped
and caught the scent of ...freedom? Alertly
stopping in mid-hoe
with horizon-like awareness
that the lithe legs of freedom were
about to embrace him,
he drop the hoe
he ran north for all he’s worth, heels to head!
Black Orpheus grad Eastern High School
apples, peaches, pumpkin pie-
cheerleaders, parquet floors, and tuneful
hum of the poetry of basketball-
we all go to Eastern High!
His parents went to Jackson Colored
according to the shape-up history
of the race, the barber shop history,
the pomade and Readers’ Digest history
of the front parlor and the church hall.
Right now, he thought, we are high paid singers
and black birds in a coop of gilded wire.
and that wire was a garrot around his
throat that August day of 12th Street, Detroit.
He went to see his girl, Eurydice,
who waited to hear his sweet song approach.
Bull Death of all Hell, great god of disaster
broke into Detroit that August day
of 1967, wearing shades
and a ten gallon hat and riding boots.
Bull looked around and saw Eurydice
and remembered the sweet smell of rape.
He gathered her up
under his acrid armpit
and took her to
his loathely kingdom,
the underground Detroit,
flip-side of Virginia Park and Woodward;
an LP played backwards and
locked in forgotten tongues.
In Hell there is no conversation;
only immigration and cremation;
Bull made her queen by coronation.
Orpheus had to brave the rioting
streets and pass the gates of Hell
to save sweet ebony Eurydice.
Deputies and patrolmen of the Bull
stood in his way
with dark reflective eyes
like sunglasses in the night,
hollow eye orbitals of disgust;
but they gave way to Orpheus’ song.
Hell’s Top Forty radio repeated
“Standing in the Shadow of Love”
a 45 stuck in a groove:
“heartache to come… heartache to come”
And in this kingdom
of the dead, Orpheus
was at side B of the
Algiers Motel by now,
the side less played below
the pavement of Virginia Park:
the sound of gunshots,
the blood of bodies,
the red, winking eye
of Devil's Night and arson.
Bull Death let brave Orpheus take his sweet
The radio crooned,
“What you seen here tonight?”
They looked at the bodies in the rooms;
and there will be five mothers mourning.
Bull snorted and said, “You guys aint’ seen squat!”
The TV news said,
“You never saw nothin’. You weren’t even here!”
The deputies said “Don’t look back!”
“We will watch you go,
and if you stop or if you swivel
your heads back toward us,
we’ll shoot ya like dogs!”
And the radio added,
"Bitch walk behind ya!"
All the bodies officially not there,
bodies that would no longer care
to draw breath in open air.
They walked, Orpheus leading.
Far off shots – like New Years!
Screams – glimpses of army tanks.
“Hold on, girl.” he told her. “Hold on.”
Slo-mo gunshots cut into asphalt;
silence… then the percussion of playground
chain nets when a bullet hits a backboard;
a crystalline night of shards
from barber shop windows;
smooth and slick predator bullets
that take their slow hand time in
the intercourse of metal and of skin;
somewhere someone's auntie cries out!
and Eurydice turns…. !
pix: Andrew in Windsor http://www.flickr.com/photos/aiw/
The story of Orpheus: Orpheus was the greatest singer and poet in the world. His mate, Eurydice, was abducted by Hades, the lord of the underworld, and he took her with him back to his dismal kingdom. (A story similar to that of Proserpina and Pluto.) Orpheus followed her there, and after many trials, succeeded in getting Hades to agree that Eurydice return with him to the upper Earth. Hades insisted on one stipulation: if Eurydice were once to look back towards the underworld on her journey back home, she would remain with him forever.
The Algiers Motel was the scene of at least 5 killings during the Detroit riot of 1967. Three police officers were brought up on charges, but no one was ever found guilty of anything. John Hersey, who wrote Hiroshima and A Bell for Adano, wrote The Algiers Motel Incident. Read it.
Stevie - Stevie Wonder
Diana - Diana Ross
Brewster, Douglass - Brewster is the high-rise part of the Brewster-Douglass Project. Frederick Douglass was the area for townhouses. It deteriorated into a nightmare of crime and crack, and has been shut down for a while now.
Bull Death - Hades, the lord of the underwortld is seen like some Southern sheriffs named Bull, like Bull Connors.
12 Street - where the riot started in an after hours bar, called a blind pig locally. The street was renamed Rosa Parks some time later.
Devil's Night - the night before Halloween. Detroit used to have an arson problem that night.
flip side, side B - the idea here is that the realm of the underworld is under the earth, and we think of it like the other side of a record... the side on the "other side", the flip side of Life.