Ode to Baltimore Leaving

roger miller

Engine, engine #9

comin’ down the railroad line

I know he got on in Baltimore . . .

 

Roger Miller took me there

about the time the Orioles won

the Series, Dave McNally

Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, Frank

and Brooks, Old Earl Weaver

waddling to the mound

back when Johnny U

still threw bullets to Ray Berry

and the horseshoes were full of luck

enough for another Old Earl

morale” to get it done

the glory years

before you appeared

 

Back then at the blooming

of your literary passion

black voices erupting in Amiri-ka

throwing off the invisible chains

Ellison and Baldwin told it

on the mountain, Langston

exploded into LeRoi’s dream

of Baraka Cassius Butterfly Ali

refusing to be tools, no

Viet Congs ever called them niggers

Gregory wrote Gwendolyn

Malcomb Martin King’s X

comin’ for to carry you home

 

Where you were born to the beating

wings of Ravens nevermore

knock-knock-knocking like Dylan

on Poe’s door or maybe

trying to score Ishmael’s weed

blow reed, seed, feed the hip

pocket green-felt, bank the four

put a little Irish topspin on it

and kiss Elvis still poppin’ pills

in the dim hallway’s red glow

from the “ME*S ROO*” neon

sign, his prostate dribbling

Bubba Ho-tep’s gown

as he rattles the sheets

racks and rolls nine balls

while Charlie Parker grabs a cue

chalks the tip cool, and bebop

blue Hawaiian ukes twang out

Scott Key’s poem on White

HorseShoe records, Billie Holiday

powderin’ her nose, slurring riffs

scratched and skipping

drained of neighborhood luck

but nobody gives a rat’s ass

nobody can buy diddle-fuck

or take the time to tack it back

up in the slums of Baltimore

or Browning or in the wind-

blown trailer parks of Buffalo

Wyoming where carcasses bloat

hanging twisted in barbed wire

strange fruit rotting, no trees, Hell

 

You can’t afford Magnolia

blossoms let alone pay

the Bills playing through blizzards

off Erie, keep shoveling coal

for your underground soul train

old number nine will be arriving on time

what you need to remember

my middle-aged line-breaking linebacker

friend on those long-cold nights

tramping on to a hauntingly

familiar refrain

when I am neither

and you are nor, given

you are still there and here

sucking air when hopefully I too

can still hear your beat, still

being here on my feet . . .

but you know that’s no never-mind

to this bit, this nugget?

fug-it, this is it—

 

Hold close to your own

particular music

follow the oddball ditties

rattling through your dreams

the tongue prattle recurring

whispered cracks of the whip

on the King-of-the-Road sized

love-knots lodged in your throat

one line, one poem, one person

or song—that voice

that carries you along, practice

does make all the difference

and no matter which road you take

a hundred and ten miles

ain’t much distance

comin’ down the old track

of your main time-line

but it sure do make a difference . . .

you gotta hang with it, man

’cause it’s your tune, be it

the blues or the news or

the goddamn color of your shoes

oh, I don’t think he loves me anymore

 

You can do anything or

nothing, know nothing, never be

but never is it wrong

going or doing or knowing

what you want, what you feel

you need, all roads

surely do make a difference

but all tracks circle back

to the Baltimore in you

leaving us here in Missoula

licking Betty Lou Berry dreams

and chanting for Buffalo

to return to Montana

where Raven first appeared

flying out of the black

pupil of a blue colt’s eye

 

no, I don’t think you love me anymore

 

for Peter on the occasion of his 35th birthday, thanks to Roger Miller

 

 

Mark Gibbons, occasional poet

June 27, 2013

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