Tim Young’s is a voice carrying me back as far into the depths of the Minnesota Men’s Conference as I can remember. There he stood to Robert’s pleasure, declaiming A Black Pig’s Head; the drumbeat of one-syllable words suggesting a muscular tension with the caprice of the natural world. The poet who saw himself as a young man apart, reporting I stood between my mother and my father, thinking, now celebrates a shared watery enfoldment, the undeniable blessings of enduring friendships, and mysteries worth singing about. In entering the world of these two poems, you may find yourself looking into a fire-lit clearing at night, your lingering suspicion giving way to gratitude for the blessings that there are, and your inexplicable place in them. – mg
IN THE SILENT HOUR
In the silent hour
thirty white men wade
into shallow water.
A chill splashes up
over our heavy legs,
shrinks our scrotums
and laps our thickening waists.
an occasional soul,
into his private pool
then emerges rolling
with the great
of his whale nature.
Bears recognize such sounds
and for a moment
the art of herd animals.
the quick dips
and stuttering hoots
of a hunter overcome by cold water.
Across the bottom’s sand
where snails dance
in a slow
show of persistence,
our watery footprints vanish
as we celebrate
. . . .our herd,
. . . . .aloneness,
and the spectacle
of silent joy.
– Timothy Young
SINGING IN THE PALACE OF KINGS
Wealth and power pass like a dream.
Beauty fades like a flower.
Long life is gone like a wave.
I am not a clown.
I am not a beautiful woman.
What have I to do in the palaces of kings?
Four days now and it’s still raining.
We’re in New Orleans, singing in the Palace of Kings.
It’s a Mead Hall, a Louisiana Longhouse for men,
a sanctuary for the Bottomfeeders’ Medicine Lodge.
After perpetual downpours, after hours
of cracking lightning, and tumbling thunder,
after the streets have slickened and the pines danced,
sirens wail full-voiced in our hearts.
Halfway through a week of singing,
we rehearse old hymns. We rattle ribald limericks,
poke one another’s ego and polish our harmonies—
the fifths, the thirds and an occasional seventh.
Poems flow from the lips of these men,
as if the liqueurs of long-learned experience need to coagulate.
We know divine comedy when Slack Jack Singer
downloads dirty puns, slaps his sides, and squeals.
As a black-bearded King of Gospel,
David riffs on spirituals and blue notes.
Maurice the Happy Chef lectures in a Julia Child falsetto
then he waves his spoon over a choir of goblins.
With his sound system, Dr. Bob offers choral charters to heaven.
We ride a Russian bus with an engine of bass singers.
They are angels of our kind with notes so low that
a lotus root couldn’t find them. But we know where they are.
Thunder rolls again, and lightning flashes
in the sky above Dr. Bob’s secret garden.
With a cactus-sweetness we practice Hard Times,
Ubi Caritas, and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
When Doug blows a pitch pipe, we find the hole in our souls.
Something moves into the space.
The Russian choir knows how to fill that space.
And as it fills it opens more—a miracle of grace and tears.
When the Persian carpet accepts our tears,
the reports of dying teachers, lost wives, lost farms,
divorces, dead fathers and our children who face the tortures
and glories of the twenty first century, Anno Dominum,
when we wail through songs, the blues and standards,
folk tunes, or chants of ancient, Latin submission,
the loved ones inside us swoon onto our throats,
onto our lips and heaving chests.
They arrive from beyond the veil of existence.
We are their vehicles into the earthly world.
As is proper in the Palace of Kings,
we speak of them often.
They are returning—a father, a wife,
a brother, a sister, a teacher, an unborn child.
They are the threats to our elegant egos,
They come through the distances of regret and longing.
They return, not to punish, but to share our lives, again.
When Slack Jack bursts into Blue Skies,
“Nothing more than blue skies from now on.”
I watch clouds part and fade behind him.
They come through the joy of men singing.
In the Palace of Kings there’s a room
for the King of Hunger,
for the King of the Homeless,
for the King of Limping Prisoners,
for the King of the Lonesome River,
the King of Forgotten Soldiers,
the White King of Memphis, the Blue Tent King,
the King of Castro, the King of Rainbows,
for the King of Black Coupes and Silver Screens,
the King of Chicory Coffee Lattes,
the King of Knifemakers,
the King of Dying Brothers, and the King of Sorrow.
The Palace of Kings has a library of experience.
I stroll through the stacks of sorrow, the high shelves of regret,
around tables of wrongdoing and commiseration,
and into the ornate vaults of precious joys.
In this kingdom you can ride the doctor’s chariot,
with its leather seats and talking mirrors,
to feasting tables heaped high with Jambalaya,
Po’boys, Sweet Potato Hash, Crabby Eggs, Grits,
Crawfish Gumbo, Char-broiled Oysters,
Boudin Balls, Praline Bacon, Eggs Napoleon,
Shrimp Rémoulade, and desserts of Key Lime Pie,
Baked Alaska and Drunken Bananas.
Bring a laptop, an I-pad, or a scrap of paper.
Bring your bare feet, your Guccis or old penny loafers.
Bring your holey socks, your two boots or shit-kickers.
The key to the Palace of Kings is in your throat.
There’s a room for you, too.
All rooms are A through G,
and flats are available. Take up your key.
Turn to face the sharp corners of your pain,
You might room next to the King of Bach Tocattas,
the Trombone King from Basin Street,
a Haitian King of chamber scores,
or a Tchoupatulas Chief shouting at the top of his voice.
Open your throat to the joy of singing.
Open your door to the Palace of Kings.
In the hidden garden, beside murmuring fountains—
your voice, your song, your joy.
Red Dragonfly Press
Jack Gunderson (aka Slack Jack Singer, Bottomfeeder Medicine Lodge)