Jay Wright


Benjamin Banneker Helps to Build a City

In a morning coat,
hands locked behind your back,
you walk gravely along the lines in your head.
These others stand with you,
squinting the city into place,
yet cannot see what you see,
what you would see
—a vision of these paths,
laid out like a star,
or like a body,
the seed vibrating within itself,
breaking into the open,
dancing up to stop at the end of the universe.
I say your vision goes as far as this,
the egg of the world,
where everything remains, and moves,

The End of an Ethnic Dream

Cigarettes in my mouth
to puncture blisters in my brain.
My bass a fine piece of furniture.
My fingers soft, too soft to rattle
rafters in second-rate halls.
The harmonies I could never learn
stick in Ayler's screams.
An African chant chokes us. My image shot.

If you look off over the Hudson,
the dark cooperatives spit at the dinghies
floating up the night.

The Healing Improvisation of Hair

If you undo your do you would
be strange. Hair has been on my mind.
I used to lean in the doorway
and watch my stony woman wind
the copper through the black, and play
with my understanding, show me she cóuld
take a cup of river water,
and watch it shimmy, watch it change,
turn around and become ash bone.
Wind in the cottonwoods wakes me
to a day so thin its breastbone

The Measure

I continue in my gbariye.
All things along my path are clean and white.
I have set out on a flute’ s quiet wave
in search of my dark love.
Divination and division mark my road;
yet, if I turn from left to right,
I walk the same straight path.
I carry the wine of salt water in my bag
to the crossroads of honey and milk.
I am puffed up and charged with the thought
of my own separation. From light to light,
I continue while the light lasts.
The light rests on my walking pole.
I continue.

What Is Good

Out of the water call
my luminous breath,
into the bird, intending serpent, red,
who shakes himself, white,
out of that forest body, black.

Red gourd head spirit of the bush,
your breath is speech;
your speech is ordinary, pure.
I take you from the blue
glass of my sacred windows,
I ring you cold upon my father’ s weights.