National Poetry Month Day 25: “Letter To Be Wrapped Around a 12-Inch Disc” by Jake Adam York


Welcome to The Rumpus’s National Poetry Month project. We’ll be running a new poem from a different poet each day for the month of April.

Letter To Be Wrapped Around a 12-Inch Disc

—To Major Jackson, from Gadsden, Alabama

Here it is, first disc I remember

        pulling from the bin—jacket
white, label a dish of radio waves,
                the way I wished

I could have seen the world, the sky
        those nights when I pressed my ear
to the speakers and dialed the tuner

                through Birmingham,
Jackson, New Orleans, reaching
        for the sound of some beyond,

praying each night not only
                not to die

but to wake up and discover
        what I’d always known, myself
an alien with this second sight,

                the world a book
of such vibration I could see
        what I needed. And I needed

this, this music, whosever it was,
                this elsewhere
I pulled from its sleeve and spun

        beneath the needle, this orchestra
crash, this rush, this planet rocked
                with lasers

like the blasts we hammered
        out of high-tension wires,

a strange music at last
                near at hand.

Each one was a rocket taking off
        not landing, which is what

I prayed against each night
                the shells flashed
on the army range a few hills distant

        which we knew would be
among the first to go if
                the Russians struck,

everything we knew turned first
        to light and then to ash…

I can hear it now, lightning crack
                in the Memphis channel,

hit me, in Bambaataa’s spin,
        Bambaataa’s beat, the shock

of doors opening between the stars,

                of someone reaching
down, George Clinton or Jesus
        Christ, someone reaching up,

Sun Ra’s Rocket #9 taking off
                for Venus,

anywhere but this before
        the radiation, mutation
came down. I needed this,

                this liberation
I’d spin each night and sometimes
        cut the sound to listen

to the needle rattle in the groove,
                a cicada in its shell,
waiting for wings to unfold,

        four dollars of polyrhythm,
of syncopation

                to begin to hear
myself over the drawl of home

        and step to the mall-fountain
rap battles my friend coaxed me into,

                teaching me
to fold a sentence
        to a hawk, a panther,
a rattlesnake, a rocket,
                an origami star,

Southside hicks against
        boys from Litchfield
and Tuscaloosa Ave

                I might see
in a parking lot
        pulling their moms to the curb

then dialing up the beat
                where we’d catch
each other’s bob, a by-word

        we needed to call across
the lines the county offered us.

                We had so much
behind us, the history

        we were told we shouldn’t
name, stir up, remember,
                so much silence

we needed to break. Alone
        and then together and then
alone again, because they told us

                we were young
and we should turn that noise down

        we slid the discs off our fingers
until even the ridges of our prints
                felt musical.

Dap is the vibe passing
        hand to hand, hand to pen,
pen rolling like the needle

                over the dark

then pulling back to spin
        free again so

fingerprints give up
                their songs,

and there in the dust
        of having met, Birmingham
drifts with Philly, New York
                with New Orleans.

Each note pops like lightning
        in the broadcast air,

like Robert Johnson’s calloused
                palps on the steel

as he learned his graveyard music
        in a ghost town in Alabama
while looking up at the stars.

                Take this then
and spin it, pulling history
        back against itself until

you find the star-calling riff
                and everything falls

and elsewhere gives way
        to where and we don’t have to
look away again.

                I fold the liner now,
my inked fingers leaving
        their rings here where

you will have to peel the tape
                to open the disc
of night to set it reeling,

        in its grooves the plosive novas
of dust, the afterwards of skin

new beats between
        the ones we already know.

Jake Adam York

If you like what the Rumpus is doing for National Poetry Month, you’ll probably like this multimedia anthology of original poems we’ve run at The Rumpus over the last three years. Available only for iPad. Check it out!

Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →