Tony Williams/Mikal Gaines




from Live at the Plugged Nickel – 1965


even then, he knew


to swing hard,

full, and without



carried enough intention

in his hands and feet

to bend the wood to

his will and tame the

metal’s madness


enough patience to move

the meter, to push, pull,

please, and punctuate

Miles’ punches and to


lend weight to Wayne’s

air. Tony, Ron, and

Herbie, they did it together,

became a pyramid we


could climb to the top

of so we could soar and

taunt the sun




There Comes a Time


build. in. layers. first the whirl then

the haunted hollows beneath hands;


add the wash of ancient alchemy and strings

pulled tightly as if for garroting; all of these swirling


above the throbbing darkness below. they said

that our sorcery was dead, that our divination did


not survive the slaughter. they could not

know that they had forced us to master time,


to learn how to pass and speed it along in the hull of the

ship or swaying low in the sun scorched cane, to slow


it down to a succession of frozen frames on the block so

we could remember each face, to etch the cheeks, eyes, noses,


mouths, and particular curvature of tear drops into memory before

they were disappeared from us; they could not know what we


know of infinity gleaned from inside the loops of coffle

cuffs and chains or the gravitational pull of black holes


that collapse when we sing in syncopation; they could not

know as we do that sound is time, is light, is breath, is life.






(For Tony)


he shakes and bakes like a

shotgun, rolling,

time keeping soul pouring

out, seeping mean

thumping four-on-the-floor

golden suns shimmering, spinning

around the core


Man, he really talkin’ tonight ain’t he?

talking and tip top tightrope walking,

speaking high-toned and boldfaced to shame, signifyin’

right to its face, all breakneck beating

and maim creeping up like goose bumps,

like paper cuts, like some sweetly inevitable

infection, like some curious

infusion, some rightly rich reception, some killer

friction, manic static, fire fission, dream wood

discretion lesson, a deep tissue treatment for those

still scarred by their last redemption


clap/snap: earthquake rhythms and ghost

melodies (all fighting for

airtime) in his magical cacophony

sopping with rage on the staff,

smothering treble on the clef,

we say goddamn: this is some powerful shit

simmering, boiling up slow, exploding

splash, crash, and ride, ride, ride…

ride all the way to the land of milk

and honey, all the way down

through the blood, to the clay-colored

crimson arterial

spray flood


his tainted fever and delirium is threatening

to spill, threatening to

snitch: to tell all


but is he talking foolishness or saying something?


you can see him

pleading bastard prayers

in the spaces

between notes, begging:

please, talk to me lord, talk to me demons,

talk to me angels, speak up now Salem witches, shout out now

black charred, strung-up gentleman warlocks, sing

through my fingers, wrists, breath, bark

now hellhounds and bare your teeth

sing, sing like a shotgun rolling with

four-on-the-floor, like choking, like pepper spray tears, like fire hoses,

like a hard, cock-black nightstick across a disobedient forehead


the crowd is stunned

he wonders what kind of beating

it will take to pull them from their seats?

how battered and bruised he must leave

the skin to make them believe


he’ll bleed for them; tonight he will

leave it all on the line

this is the story he is telling





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